Taking on fragmentation in IoT

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Sitting in the Imagination canteen at lunchtime, there are many, many conversations going on. At Imagination we have staff from all around the world and the lingua franca of the company is English. But at lunchtime people from the same country meet and talk – in their own language. This makes for an interesting and exciting environment at lunchtime with a multitude of languages being heard and a lot of conversation!

Listening to the wide range of languages – and language is just a form of communication as we all know, it struck me that communicating in the IoT world is starting to become just like the Imagination canteen.

Let me explain.

Is fragmentation in IoT really a bad thing?

IoT is the hot subject in wireless communications right now and everybody is trying to create the ultimate IoT standard. Presently there are a plethora of solutions that are being promoted – all competing to be the standard for IoT; some of the more well-known ones are (in no particular order):

Additionally, there are many other industry-driven or proprietary standards floating around (examples include ANT/ANT+, Nike+, IrDA).


An overview of several IoT communications standards (via Postcapes)

As more and more IoT devices get deployed, we are going to see multiple communications standards existing in the same environment. Unlike inside Imagination, there is no lingua franca available: Wi-Fi does not talk to Zigbee; cellular does not understand what Bluetooth says. What we really need to do is to steal from The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and use a babel fish universal translator. Although this idea sounds attractive, it is just not going to happen.

There will be many areas where you will only have one communication standard being used. Most of these areas will be where a very high degree of control can be achieved – manufacturing and offices are such areas.

But the real value of the IoT is not just in the industrial markets. It is – as always – in the consumer markets too. Many use cases exist that revolve around the individual consumer and how they interact with multiple IoT devices – at home, when shopping, in a driverless car.

Ensigma_FlowCloud_IoTThe Internet of Things will reach everywhere

How likely is it that a single communication standard will be used in all of these markets? I think that the answer to that is: very unlikely. The market is already fragmented. We already have Wi-Fi deployed widely – and Wi-Fi will be used. We also have Bluetooth deployed in a number of healthcare devices. In the UK we have cellular being used for smart metering while ZigBee is being used for lighting control. Finally in this list of examples we have the Apple iBeacon. We will not be able to have one communications standard, it is already too fragmented.

So it will have to be the consumer that has to become the universal translator. Your device of choice – it will probably be your tablet or smartphone – must know how to talk to all of these IoT devices and needs to be able to understand all communications standards. Most phones and tablets speak three languages today – cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; however, in the future, they will be expected to speak more.

Ensigma radio processors solve the fragmentation dilemma

We at Imagination believe that this challenge needs new thinking. We believe that the communications device in your phone or tablet needs to be able to speak many languages. But some of these languages will only need to be spoken occasionally. Everybody will need cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as these communications standards are widely deployed. But other standards, such as 6LoWPAN, may only be used occasionally

Using traditional chip design, every new communications standard that you want to support requires a complete new radio to be integrated into the chip. As the number of IoT communication standards grows, how do you decide which standards you integrate into the chips that get designed into the phone or tablet? If we want to keep the size of the communications chip small, then you will have to keep the number of standards low. What you really need is to be able to have radio standards available when you need them – as you need them.

The Ensigma Explorer platform provides the ideal platform for this new thinking. Designed to be highly flexible and scalable, it enables multiple communications standards to be enabled on a single communications IC.

Ensigma Explorer RPU for high performance connectivityEnsigma Explorer provides high performance and ultimate flexibility

Ensigma today supports over 30 communications standards and more are being developed. Its unique architecture enables multiple standards to be supported, but only enabled as required.

The recently announced Whisper platform is also based on this thinking. Whereas Explorer provides the ultimate in flexibility and communications standards support, Whisper was designed for the low power consumption market, where long battery life is a premium. It also has the flexibility and focuses on the lower data rate communications standards such as low power Wi-Fi, IEEE 802.15.4 and Bluetooth.

Ensigma Whisper RPU for low power connectivityEnsigma Whisper is optimized for low power

Together, Explorer and Whisper provide the flexibility for the new and highly fragmented IoT wireless communications. With a choice of platforms and solutions, we at Imagination provide the correct solution for the needs of all parts of the market.

Of course, we may get the lingua franca. But until then, we need to make sure that the communications chips have the flexibility to provide the universal communicator.

What are your thoughts on the IoT market? Let us know in the comment box below. Make sure you also follow us on Twitter (@ImaginationTech) for more IoT-related updates.

Richard Edgar

Richard Edgar

Richard Edgar is Director of Communications Technology for Imagination Technologies. Richard has worked in the Wi-Fi industry for far too long at various semiconductor and equipment manufacturers developing various short-range wireless solutions. Richard represents Imagination in various industry bodies for short range wireless technologies. When not obsessing about wireless technologies, Richard enjoys church bell ringing, archery and shouting at his children.

4 thoughts on “Taking on fragmentation in IoT”

  1. An interesting article. Maybe the decision about which standards will be used will be decided by which technology vendors emerge as dominant players in the IoT market. Vendors will undoubtedly use standards in an attempt to control the market and I wonder whether a multi-standard approach will be attractive to them vs an approach that they can tightly control?


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