To those unfamiliar with the semiconductor supply chain, there are many decisions that will impact the cost, reliability and functionality of your IoT chip. Even for companies that have created a custom SoC solution before - when it comes to an IoT device, the same rules do not necessarily apply. These decisions need to be made and written into the spec for your design - not retro-fitted further down the line. Taking the analogy of a snakes and ladders board, this blog will highlight some of the major snakes to avoid.... enabling you to concentrate on climbing the ladders.
Fab, Technology choice, IP, Security, Packaging - many decisions need to be taken early, and need to be right, to ensure your IoT chip is fit for purpose.
The IoT sector - essentially end devices connected to the internet - is vast, and spans multiple and diverse industry sectors. The 'connected' part is where the semiconductor sector come into play. We create the silicon chip that enables a product to become 'smart'.
Whatever the end device, an IoT chip will have similar basic characteristics - it needs to be a low power mixed signal device. However, this type of chip is very different to the complex SoCs that have dominated and shaped the semiconductor supply chain up until now.
So we need new ideas and business models within the semiconductor supply chain to support this sector, and we need to engage and inform new customers that aren't necessarily familiar with the process of designing and building a chip. In this respect, Sondrel has collaborated with industry partners and can act as an engagement manager, helping you to get your specification together, and co-ordinating the semiconductor suppliers you will need for your SoC.
Lets take a look at what an IoT SoC looks like...
So an IoT SoC is essentially a simple design in comparison to a more complex smartphone chip, for example. But it still needs certain essential components. You need digital and analogue IP, including a processor, a sensor, a wireless device, and the custom functionlity specific to your device. You need to pull all of these components together into a design, test it, send it to be turned into silicon, and then package it.
Back to the supply chain. Here are some major decisions that have to be addressed. Back to the snakes and ladders board:
- The first 'snake' that you need to avoid is the selection of a Foundry & the Technology Node on which to build your device. This decision has an impact on
- IP availability
- electrical characteristics
- and the cost of your chip.
So, a pretty major and fundamental decision! Choose wisely. This choice needs to meet the technical, operational, business model and schedule requirements of your product.
- Another big snake - Security. A basic level of security at the end point of your design can be provided, however security needs to be factored in, tailored to your application. At an early stage you need to consider if the data in your system needs to be secure, and if so, what needs to be protected and what it needs to be protected from. A basic level of security can be provided at the device level but further considerations regarding what is needed to protect the system as a whole are also required.
- The next snake to avoid.IP. All of the required IP is seldom available when you need it, and rarely from one supplier. You need key IP partners who can provide the IP on time, and in a cost effective way.
- Then there's the Packaging around the silicon.. Packages are often the biggest contributor to the unit price and have a big impact on the device performance. Often, novel solutions are required for IoT applications. You need to decide how the parts are to be packaged and tested.
- Manufacturability and Reliability. You need to plan your product to ensure it is manufacturable and reliable. A poor yield in the fab will clearly have an impact on cost but poorly designed devices can also result in field failures. If your ASIC is installed in a location that is remote, or difficult to access and repair, the cost and inconvenience will be high and therefore has a big business impact. Making the right decisions, at the right time can turn these snakes into ladders for your ASIC.
Making the right decisions, at the right time, can turn these potential 'snakes' into 'ladders'. Nail down your specification by understanding the choices that you have and the decisions that need to be made - and that can be accommodated within your timeline and budget.
If you're going to the ARM TechCon in Santa Clara this week, it would be worth checking out the panel discussion on this topic. Sondrel is an ARM Approved Design Partner. Paul Martin, Director of Engineering at Sondrel, is one of the experts sitting on the panel and answering questions on the best way to approach the design and production of an IoT chip.
I work in marketing and communications for Sondrel, an IC Design Services Consultancy. Our global engineering team work predominantly on chip designs in the IoT, automotive, mobile and communications sectors. Have any questions? We'd love to hear from you. You can contact us directly, or clicking on the button below for further information on IoT chip design.