Embedded Processor IP Leaders Laying the IoT Foundation

by Daniel Mandell | 10/15/2015

In an effort to foster widespread adoption of their respective architectures and IP, leading embedded processor technology providers have been steadily building IoT-focused development platforms for their engineering ecosystems. ARM, Intel, and Imagination Technologies market comprehensive platforms focused on facilitating interoperability, software development, and security. Each organization is expanding on their development support and embedded hardware and software offerings in an effort to promote the reach of their respective core architectures. Despite some overlap, these leading embedded processor core architecture providers have actually embarked on fairly different paths for the IoT.

ARM’s mbed platform looks to bring simplicity and control to those wanting access to the IoT through its industry-leading Cortex-M IP. ARM is enlisting the market leadership of its MCU-based architectures as the base of its IoT expansion. In this way, ARM is selling itself as the convenient, low-power processing solution for IoT systems and further arming those who already use its processor IP with development tools and software stack components to facilitate creating end-to-end solutions. The mbed platform currently consists of ARM’s mbed OS, mbed Device Server, and mbed developer community. Moving forward, ARM is looking to expand its mbed ecosystem and its pool of cloud partners, OEMs, ODMs, system integrators, and silicon partners. Considering ARM’s leadership across several high-volume MCU markets and its strong developer community backed by leading embedded processor supplier partners, the company is in a very strong position to maintain its leadership in small footprint systems and mobile/portable devices through evolving connected hardware requirements.

Intel’s IoT Platform, on the other hand, is more malleable and not quite as grounded in one processor family or footprint. Intel’s platform is essentially an end-to-end IoT solution reference model supported by Intel’s processor families (e.g. Quark, Atom, Core), software from its McAfee and Wind River assets, and pre-integrated third-party solutions.  Intel has also made available IoT Gateway Development Kits – the DK50, DK100, DK200, and DK300 series – targeting a variety of leading connected industries with different hardware profiles. These development kits all come with fully-configured compute boards, wireless communication capabilities (with support for cellular, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and more), security, manageability, operating systems, and development tool sets. Further, Intel has also established the IoT Solutions Alliance, which now consists of more than 400 members, in order to promote IoT development and integration with Intel architectures. Intel is thus looking to expand usage of its architecture by offering more diversity to customers seeking to connect to the IoT.

Imagination Technologies’ Connected Processor IP Platform combines three individual products/components: Ensigma, Flowcloud, and MIPS processing. Ensigma is a set of communications and networking IP focused around radio processing and security. Flowcloud is an IoT device management platform specifically designed to accelerate the deployment of cloud-based applications. Perhaps its most ambitious push for wider MIPS adoption comes in the form of the Creator Ci20 board which launched in 2014 and was updated in May 2015. This development board is a mechanism by which developers, makers, and students can create applications for the IoT using Linux and Android. The Creator Ci20 is supported by the prpl foundation – an open source group that Imagination Technologies helped establish in May 2014 which supports MIPS to develop solutions enabling new datacenter-to-device portable software and virtualized architectures.

Although they are all expanding on their development support and partnership ecosystems, leading embedded processor technology providers are planning differently for the IoT. ARM, for instance, is further equipping its customers and partners with more of the software stack to facilitate the development of secure low-power connected systems. Intel is integrating software assets from Wind River and McAfee to accelerate IoT development across several of its processor families, growing the Intel IoT Solutions Alliance, and providing fully-configured intelligent gateway reference platforms for creating end-to-end solutions. Imagination Technologies is looking to spread the reach of MIPS through individual product adoption and open source development via the prpl foundation and its member partners including Broadcom, Cavium, Qualcomm, and more. The ability of core IP providers to net the growing IoT opportunity will be ultimately decided by the extent at which each can enable their current and prospective customers and partners to engineer end-to-end IoT solutions and services.

View the 2017 IoT & Embedded Technology Research Outline to learn more.

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