The era of the Internet of Things (IoT) is pegged to be the next big transformation set to revolutionise our lives. It is exciting to know that one can start the car or open the doors to our homes via a smartphone, and that everything from the refrigerator to traffic signals will be connected to the Internet, transferring data seamlessly to enable an intelligent and smart economy.
The government’s plan to build 100 smart cities, and the launch of the Digital India programme should provide an impetus to the uptake of IoT applications. Predictions put India’s share of the IoT pie at 5-6% of the global industry. The IoT framework released by the department of electronics & IT aim to create a $15 billion market by 2020, potentially leading to the growth of connected devices from the current 200 million to 2.7 billion by 2020.
From these huge numbers and various definitions that are available on the Internet, IoT can be called a mega-trend, encompassing everything: mobility, wearables, cloud, Big Data, analytics, devices, semiconductors, and so much more. However, while there has been a lot of buzz around IoT, we are still at the proof of concept and exploration stage. There are no established players, no market leaders, and we still have not seen a killer app for the IoT.
As there are no established players and, at least at this time, it is a level playing field, there is a unique window of opportunity for emerging regions like India, which have very large addressable markets. Healthcare, automotive and energy are all promising areas for which Indian entrepreneurs can innovate.
Aside from venture capitalists and other private sources, entrepreneurs in the IoT sector can also avail themselves of financial and other aid from the government, which has announced several measures to boost the ESDM
industry. The time is ripe for entrepreneurs to take advantage of the subsidies, funds, and other support available to them.
Though the local and global market opportunity is huge, designing and manufacturing electronics products for IoT have many significant challenges, both technical and business related. A few of them are:
Need for accelerated innovation: For IoT to become a reality, new technologies need to be developed and delivered at a faster pace. Multiple variables around silicon capabilities, IP and hardware innovations, SWaP (size, weight, and power) issues, memory and battery life, cost and network compatibility will dictate the speed at which IoT-enabled technologies will be adopted and succeed in the market.
Design challenges: With always-on devices being a prerequisite, design engineers have significant challenges related to making power and performance trade-offs in IoT devices. Designing for IoT amplifies challenges the industry has been experiencing, especially around mixed signal, low power, 3D-IC and system-in-package (SIP). These challenges are driving the EDA industry to innovate aggressively in the core EDA space, so that we can make our customers successful.
Lack of industry standards: Currently, there is a lack of standards governing the IoT, which is a concern for the whole electronics industry as it is inhibiting IoT-focused companies to power ahead with innovation. Conflicting multiple standards can actually inhibit innovation by diverting resources from product innovation to managing unanticipated and varied compliance requirements. Industry standards for IoT are critical for several reasons – two important ones are (1) it will ensure that IoT devices can interact seamlessly with one another; and (2) it will accelerate the progress of technology and innovation by simplifying product development.
Cost and turnaround time: On the business side, cost and turnaround time are critical for success and profitability. On the one hand, companies developing IoT-enabled products will have to keep cost per part low. This means that they will have to practice frugal innovation, keeping costs low while still providing significant design and product differentiation. They need to find a predictable path to getting the system done in the shortest time.
Considering the critical cost and time-to-market considerations for IoT devices, chip companies will increasingly rely on third-party IP and services and look at design re-use. In addition, system companies will also have to choose tools that offer flexibility of design and design choices. This is where system design enablement comes into play. EDA companies that have breadth of technology in software, hardware and IP can help make IoT a reality by enabling system design companies to differentiate their offerings.
Ecosystem collaboration is the key
Many of today’s design challenges are interdependent. To deal with this interdependency, EDA companies must not only address specific technical issues, but also collaborate closely with ecosystem partners to develop practical and reliable solutions in a reasonable timeframe. Close collaboration amongst semiconductor designers, EDA vendors, IP providers, foundries, and other ecosystem players will help mitigate some of the design challenges.
The IoT is a mega-trend that offers tremendous potential to innovate. However, while the opportunity is huge, so are the technical and business challenges that accompany designing products for the IoT era. Semiconductor and systems companies have to partner with EDA companies that have the breadth and depth of technology to help them with product realisation.
With its wealth of experience in semiconductor and IP design and project management, India is in a unique position to come up with innovative products. Recent government incentives and support have given entrepreneurs the boost they need to forge ahead. If they do, India can truly realise the dream of “Make in India for the world.”
By Jaswinder Ahuja
The writer is corporate VP & MD, Cadence Design Systems (India)