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Internet of Things Creates an Upside for Semiconductors

More applications for the Internet of Things (IoT) will translate into a significant demand for semiconductors. The emerging IoT market drove demand for 150 million units of multicore microcontroller unit (MCU) chips in 2015 -- that will rise to 1.3 billion units by 2020, according to the latest market study by ABI Research.

Industrial IoT, wearables and smart home are the current key market drivers, with the majority of future growth coming from the smart home industry, which will represent 450 million of the total multicore MCU shipments -- that will account for 36 percent of market share by 2020.

ABI analysts believe that this growth will be driven by more integrated connectivity and sensor processing hubs and an ongoing shift toward implementing innovative software solutions.

"Traditionally, device manufacturers tend to use multiple single-core MCUs to handle a device's multiple sensor functions and connectivity solutions," says Malik Saadi, vice president at ABI Research. "While this trend continues to be a dominant strategy due to the design simplicity, faster prototyping and time to market of single-core MCUs, such an approach yields products with little or no flexibility for over-the-air updates, resulting in limited product lifespans."

New Market Development Opportunities

To accommodate those future IoT applications, network scalability, interoperability, embedded intelligence and energy-efficiency are all necessary components for the next generation of innovative IoT devices.

Those requirements will enable the devices to provide longevity and handle constant updates, while making it a necessity to integrate a multicore MCU. Subsequently, the multicore MCU will empower intelligent software to support new features and advanced functionalities, such as sensor fusion or artificial intelligence.

There are already well-established low-power, low-cost multicore MCUs available on the market, many of which include integrated connectivity -- such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and IEEE 802.15.4 -- as well as various MEMS sensors, such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, temperature and magnetometers.

According to the ABI assessment, some MCU vendors are strategically preparing for the future by proactively adopting strategies for multicore MCUs, targeting heterogeneous connectivity and sensor functions.

Moving forward, it is fundamental that MCU suppliers support as many connectivity and sensing solutions into a single MCU as possible in an effort to boost scale and optimize cost, silicon area, power consumption and future integration of smart functionalities.

IoT device manufacturers, in turn, will need to customize their products, using various connectivity and sensing functions available in the market, to enable a multitude of advanced features and adapt to the various and rapidly changing market requirements.

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