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April 28, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 2:28pm

5 chip makers driving the Internet of Things

Semiconductor companies enabling the IoT market.

By Amy-Jo Crowley

With the Internet of Things (IoT) expected to grow to $8.9 trillion and 212 billion devices globally by 2020 (according to IDC), even cows are set to be connected to the internet.

CBR looks at five chip makers making the IoT a reality today.

1. Freescale

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Photo source: Orcaman, Freescale

Freescale Semiconductor makes microprocessors, microcontrollers, sensors and integrated circuits that are currently being used in connected cars, medical equipment, consumer appliances and energy management solutions.

The company released the ‘world’s smallest’ Internet of Things (IoT) microchip, the Kinetis KLO3, which is 15% smaller than the earlier KL02 earlier this year. The chip is based on ARM technology and designed to work in very low power devices that need less than 2KB of memory.

Adib Ghubril, a research director of semiconductors at analyst firm Gartner, told CBR in February: "The MCU, whether it’s Freescale’s or not, is a fantastic enabler of the IoT. It’s a low power, fully integrated processing device that operates in real time. It allows ‘things’ to capture and share simple, basic data from their environment in an optimal way."

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The company also has a wearable platform that allows developers to rapidly prototype various types of wearable technology.

Ghubril added that Freescale has a "good focus" on system support and ecosystem development by working with service providers further down the supply chain.

2. NXP

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Photo source: Michaelkriekm, Wikipedia

Netherlands-based NXP’s strength lies in chips related to LED lamps including GreenChip technology that aims to make lighting more energy efficient and smarter, according to Jim Tully, VP distinguished analyst for semiconductors at Gartner.

He told CBR: "It has particularly widely used technology associated with controlling LED lamps including the wireless protocols associated with controlling those lamps from light switches or from the smartphone among other controllers.

"Because LED lighting is going to be such an important part of the Internet of Things, the single biggest category, then it’s a good position to be in."

NXP has also been focusing on healthcare and energy management, which Tully believes are emerging as one of the early adopters of the IoT.

"Things like home energy management – that’s where LED lamps fit. People will install LED lights because they will save energy costs. We spend so much money on energy and heating bills that everyone is very concerned, both individuals and government, about reducing energy usage," explains Tully.

"NXP has been very successful at being at the centre of these energy management types of solutions of which lighting is actually a part."

3. Atmel

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Photo source: Paul Rako, Wikipedia

Atmel is another chip vendor Tully considers well positioned to take advantage of automotive, smart energy and connected devices in the IoT market.

Although it mainly focuses on microcontroller chips, the San Jose-based firm offers a very low-end priced microcontroller which is smaller than many other microcontrollers supplied by rivals.

"If you’re going to ship things into the billions, the costs have to go right down, so some of Atmel products are very suitable for that," he says.

"Atmel also has some interesting wireless technologies. It acquired Ozmo Devices last year, which is particularly associated with Wi-Fi and combines with a microcontroller chips to perform more of a complete solution for a particular type of thing."

4. Texas Instruments

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Photo source: Texas Instruments

Semiconductor design and manufacturing company Texas Instruments (TI) is another vendor looking to lower barriers for developers using its microcontroller and other wireless connectivity products.

"TI is strong in wireless as well as analog. The company’s DSP (digital signal processing) technologies are also important for many kinds of IoT device such as noise cancelling microphones," says Tully.

The Dallas-based firm launched its IoT cloud ecosystem it claims would allow manufacturers using TI technology to connect with IoT more easily and rapidly.

Members already include 2lemetry, ARM, Arrayent, Exosite, IBM, LogMeIn, Spark, and Thingsquare, which provide a variety of cloud-related services, such as data analytics, user portals and smartphone apps.

The company also partnered with IT services firm Tech Mahindra to set up a lab in Bangladore for IoT devices in industrial, medial and automotive sectors.

5. STMicroelectronics

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Photo source: Picsfive, Shutterstock

STMicroelectronics is unique in its offering for providing both microcontroller technology and sensor technology.

The Switzerland-based firm is also a leading supplier of MEMS (micro electro-mechanical systems) technology, which enables motion-activated user interfaces in many popular consumer smart devices.

"What’s kind of neat about MEMS is that you can manufacture them in the same way as that you manufacture chips, bringing the same economy," says Tully.

STMicroelectronics announced earlier this year that its accelerometer is helping to track motion in the innovative Mother and Motion Cookies from Sen.se, a designer of smart connected devices for the IoT.

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