ARM Unveils SoC Subsystem to Speed Up IoT Chip Development

The chip designer also reportedly is looking to buy another security technology vendor to bulk up its expertise in the Internet of things.

ARM SoC Subsystem

ARM officials are continuing their aggressive push to make the chip designer a major player in the growing Internet of things.

At the Computex 2015 show June 1, company executives unveiled a new hardware subsystem for its Cortex-M processors that is designed to improve the speed and efficiency around creating chips for connected devices. The same day, the Wall Street Journal reported that ARM is in talks to buy Sansa Security, a vendor that builds security products specifically for mobile and computer chips.

The announcement at the Taiwan show and the possibility that ARM may boost its chip security capabilities fall in line with other efforts by the chip designer over the past several years to rapidly build out its technology portfolio for the Internet of things (IoT) and establish itself as a leader in a highly lucrative market.

Officials for ARM, whose low-power architecture can be found in most of the smartphones and tablets sold in the world, believe the company's expertise in mobile and embedded systems gives it an advantage when talking about the myriad small, connected devices that make up the IoT. However, the company is facing stiff competition from other chip makers, including Intel and its Quark family of chips, IBM and its OpenPower initiative, and Imagination Technologies and its MIPS architecture.

The competition will be fierce because the upside is so large. Cisco Systems officials expect the number of connected systems—from home appliances and cars to industrial systems, surveillance cameras, street lights and sensors—will grow from about 25 billion last year to more than 50 billion by 2020. IDC analysts expect the IoT market will grow from $655.8 billion in 2014 to $1.7 trillion in 2020, particularly as enterprises and vendors enter the fray.

"While wearable devices are the consumer face of the Internet of Things, and where recognition of IoT appears to begin, the real opportunity remains in the enterprise and public sector markets," Vernon Turner, senior vice president and research fellow (IoT) for IDC's Enterprise Systems unit, said in a statement. "The ripple effect of IoT is driving traditional business models from IT-enabled business processes to IT-enabled services and finally to IT-enabled products, which is beginning to disrupt the IT status quo."

ARM, in recent years, has bolstered its IoT capabilities with such moves as introducing its mbed IoT operating system, partnering with IBM to build an IoT starter kit, and buying companies that have expertise in such areas as Bluetooth connectivity and embedded security. ARM officials said that more than 11 billion Cortex-M chips have shipped, and that the mbed developer community now numbers more than 100,000 users.

The new subsystem announced by ARM is optimized to be used with the mbed OS, ARM's Cordio Bluetooth Smart radio and its Artisan physical IP. Customers also can integrate other radios and wireless technologies, including WiFi and 802.15.4.

The subsystem IP block—which also can be licensed individually—is designed to make it easier for ARM partners to more quickly and efficiently build their own systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) for the IoT by integrating sensors and other peripherals.

The subsystem is optimized for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing's (TSMC) 55-nanometer Ultra-Low Power process technology with embedded flash memory, officials said. Partners will be able to build chips that are even smaller, less power-hungry and more affordable than current chips.

"With industry expectations of hundreds of billions of new smart connected sensors by 2030, we see a growing demand for highly customized chips," James McNiven, general manager of systems and software for ARM, said in a statement. "Creating a highly tailored SoC is complex. The ARM IoT subsystem for Cortex-M enables companies to simplify the process and improve time to market. It enables our partners to focus finite design resources on the system functionality that differentiates them in their market."

ARM officials in February announced the acquisition of Offspark, which made security software for IoT devices and sensors. Now the chip designer is looking to buy chip security tech vendor Sansa, according to the Wall Street Journal. Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said the deal could be worth between $75 million and $85 million and close within the month. Sansa's expertise is in security technology for smartphones and memory chips.