CES 2017: MediaTek, Skyworks Solutions mobile history examples of why IoT and advanced automotive will work
Of course, CES 2017 is a show that’s all about consumer markets, but the implications of its technology on other verticals cannot be understated; Often, the technology decisions of yesteryear made in mass markets like mobile trickle down to influence the embedded and Internet of Things designs of today. While this phenomenon could be seen everywhere throughout the halls of the show, two companies that embodied it served as bellwethers of emerging paradigms such as the IoT and autonomous vehicles, and examples of why they will succeed.
The first of these organizations is MediaTek, a familiar semiconductor company that has a history of supplying wireless access chipsets for handsets and modems. Speaking with J.C. Hsu in a meeting room at the Venetian during CES, the Corporate Vice President and General Manager of the IoT Business Unit at MediaTek suggested that, from his point of view, many “traditional chipset vendors aren’t well positioned” to serve the safety, intelligence, and autonomy required by next-generation automotive systems, a statement that initially raised my eyebrows given the source.
However, Hsu pointed out that the Taiwanese chipmaker’s history of design wins in systems such as TVs, set-top boxes, tablets, and smartphones actually translates well into connected vehicles in multiple ways, namely vis-à-vis the “Apple effect” and the muscle of mobile.
- The Apple effect –As is clear to any owner of a modern car, in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems are increasingly shifting towards the technology and user experiences found in today’s smartphones. Touchscreen user interfaces, automotive app marketplaces, and even remote management and control are becoming the norm in cars thanks in part to technologies such as Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto. While the two examples given may not become de facto implementations in production vehicles (at least if most auto manufacturers have anything to say about it), the fundamental architecture of IVI systems is trending towards that of a smartphone on steroids.Here, companies like MediaTek with a history of delivering solutions into the mobile marketplace that provide low power consumption, wireless access, and the ability to run advanced graphical user interfaces/human-machine interfaces (GUIs/HMIs) could transition into candidacy for supplying semiconductor technology for IVI platforms.
- Muscle of mobile –Returning to the opening notion of mobile technology influencing decisions in adjacent markets, a simple fact is that MediaTek ships roughly 1.5 billion chips a year into the consumer market. While the obvious benefit of this is economies of scale that can drive down price points significantly, an ancillary byproduct is that the company has been forced to invest in R&D activities in multiple areas to support their disparate customer base.As a result, Hsu revealed that MediaTek not only has advanced vision sensing technologies within its portfolio that were originally slated for high-end smartphone video processing, but also that IP developed years ago around the IEEE 802.11ad standard is being retrofitted as a possible 60 GHz millimeter wave radar solution for advanced driver assistance and active safety applications. In addition to pursuing the infotainment, ADAS, and radar markets, Hsu also recognized the telematics space as a target for the company, as its investments in 802.11p and 5G technology have provided a head start depending on the direction vehicle-to-everything (V2X) networks take.
The second entity is Skyworks Solutions, another wireless handset chip supplier that was formed 15 years ago from the merger of Alpha Industries and a division of Conexant. Since that time, Skyworks has developed wireless solutions of all types for pretty much any application that involves RF, enabled, once again, by technology and cost points generated from their mobile business.
Today, Skyworks Solutions’ proficiency touches almost every type of connectivity required by the IoT, including cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and low-power, wide area (LP-WA), but the company’s real expertise comes in packaging multiple components into highly integrated, optimized wireless solutions, according to John O’Neill, Vice President of Marketing at Skyworks. For example, considering wireless reference designs available from vendors like Qualcomm or Broadcom, O’Neill says that “the reality is, in real-world applications, you can always optimize the CMOS technology for, say, LTE Cat-M or NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) using the right process, such as GaN.”
To O’Neill and Skyworks, the IoT is just “a natural evolution of existing networks,” and while they still see European customers asking them to support 2G architectures, they continue to aid in that network evolution. The point is doing so with the right combination of connectivity, at the right price point.
Consumer technology: Why IoT will work
While IoT is still in its early stages with a high percentage of commercialized devices resembling more proof of concept than product, the requirement for precision networking on edge devices has not yet reached critical mass. However, particularly as mission- and safety-critical Industrial IoT systems come online (for example in automotive), so will the need for finely tuned communications solutions. Here, the lessons and technology developed for the mobile market will be used to lower cost and improve time to market, and entities with experience in these disciplines now have a confirmed seat at the IoT table. For me, at least, this is confirmation that the IoT is here to stay.
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