The exploding IoT (Internet of Things) chip market is expected to reach 20 billion devices by 2020 by many predictions. The majority of these will NOT be wearables. 

The IoT market will be driven by Data and Subscription business models. THOUSANDS of these companies popping up will need THOUSANDS of unique, specialized devices. Who's going to design all these chips? Not the traditional IC designers. It's going to be software engineers, systems designers, FPGA designers, college students…you name it. 

If you are not a traditional IC or ASIC designer, then you will likely be overwhelmed and have major anxiety when tasked with designing and producing an IoT chip.  

 This brings up several questions:

  1. How are these "new" IoT designers going to find information? Where do they look?
  2. How do you train these “new” IoT designers and comfort their anxiety?
  3. How do you calm the "sticker shock" IoT company’s managers will have over the exorbitant cost of tools to do the job?
  4. How will they find the expertise they need?

I believe the solution will be that foundries, design houses and IP companies will have to join forces to produce easy to use reference designs using a higher level approach similar to Raspberry Pi and Arduino.   

This means:

  • Modular Architectures specific to IoT Devices
  • Class Libraries for hardware such as Analog Models and Digital Subsystems
  • Software Abstractions using standard API’s and HAL’s (Hardware Adaption Layers) such as the ARM® Cortex® Microcontroller Software Interface Standard (CMSIS).

Fortunately most IoT device architectures are very similar to the typical ARM Cortex-Mx or Cortex-Ax architecture shown below.

 typical iot architecture

Maybe the problem is not that hard after all. The industry has to re-think how they service this new set of IoT designers coming very soon. The ARM Approved design partners can help.

In my opinion, ARM is the de facto vendor supplying the CPUs for most embedded chips and IoT is certainly no exception.  ARM provides the horsepower with their Cortex-M and Cortex-A families of CPUs.  The best part for IoT devices is that they have ARM TrustZone® technology for security. TrustZone technology efficiently separates the most secure parts of the chip from the user portions to effectively create a silicon firewall for the best security.

In addition to security, ARM has created very good modular software support with their CMSIS API and hardware abstraction layers. This supports the higher level of abstraction that is needed to enable the thousands of non-chip or non-ASIC engineers soon to hit the design community. In other words, they have to know little about the actual “on the metal” hardware if the IP vendors will provide the CMSIS support.

You can see the rest of my thoughts from my presentation at the REUSE2016 conference by going to


Jim Bruister is President and founder of SoC Solutions and a 36 year veteran in ASIC, SOC and IP design.