ARM CEO on giant smartphones; IoT

ARM CEO on giant smartphones; IoT

Junko Yoshida  1/9/2013 1:00 PM EST–ARM-CEO-on-TV-as–56-inch-smartphone–and-RF-IPs-for-IoT

In an interview at CES, Warren East analyzed radical changes in the TV business and what ARM can do to speed to roll out of the "Internet of Things". LAS VEGAS – ARM CEO Warren East sat down with EE Times during the Consumer Electronics Show this week to discuss the radically changing landscape for TVs, the slowly unfolding "Internet of Things" and whether the world’s largest processor IP vendor should offer RF IP modules to get IoT off the ground.
Here’s an excerpt of our conversation with East during at CES:

EE Times: What’s the purpose of visiting CES for a CEO like you, besides meeting with customers? What are you looking for?
East: I’m not here to find market trends, because at ARM we already know them. I’m here at CES to see the evidence of what we already know, validate it and make additional connections that create opportunities for ARM.

EE Times: What evidence have you seen so far?
East: In the smart digital world, smart TVs are now turning into 56-inch [screen] smartphones. Greater functions for home automation and home security systems are now performed in software, not in hardware. Usability is becoming increasingly important. Automation is now becoming ‘connected automation,’ transitioning from 8-bit to 32-bit.
So I look for a range of real products at CES – which even someone like mother, for example, would understand as tangible products – and to see if there are encouraging signs. I am here also to see how really usable these products are.

ARM CEO Warren East at CES.

EE Times:

How usable are today’s smart TVs, which you called 56-inch smartphones?
East: User experience is not satisfactory. While technology is in place, the usability is clunky. More evolution must happen to make it easier to use. With the explosion of ARM, what happened in the phone space is now applied to TVs. But today’s TVs are still closed. When consumers want to go to the Internet sites, TVs are still trying to take you to their Internet site. That’s not satisfactory. When things are too much hassle, consumers don’t use them.

EE Times: What has to happen next?
East: We see it as an opportunity. CE companies are going to solve these problems. If they can’t make their products easier to use, consumers will stop using their products.
Should ARM offer RF IPs?

EE Times:
Will the Internet of Things (IoT) be the greatest thing to happen to companies like ARM?
East: I wouldn’t necessarily call it that, because it is mobile phones that have just happened — with the biggest scale in the largest volume. If trillions of IoT devices emerge, yes, that’s great. But if IoT is something that starts to happen, it will unfold over a long span of 10 to 20 years. 

EE Times:
What will ARM need to do to enable IoT?
East: We rolled out last year Cortex M0+, which is built on our Cortex M0. Cortex M0 has been successful, but it is not quite right for smart energy devices. ARM can go a long way, but we must align our business with what’s happening in the industry. We need to see different companies with commercial, vested interests coming together and putting agreements in place. We encourage standardization.

EE Times:
Can you give me an example of these standardization efforts?
East: Weightless standard [for machine-to-machine communications] is one. [The new initiative] is working on a standard in white space radio. Weightless is proposing a wireless technology standard for exchanging data [between a basestation and thousands of machines around it] over a longer range but at very low, low power. It’s using wavelength radio transmission in an unused spectrum — where analog TV vacated their broadcast channels — known as white space. When you don’t have to transmit a lot of data – as little as a few kilobits per second, you can do this over a long distance.

EE Times: IoT is very diverse. It needs to deal with different payloads, different wireless architectures, different networks, sensors, energy harvesting schemes, etc. Will ARM need to make broader and more compelling IP offerings?
East: Offering other pieces of IP such as radio modules may be interesting. In theory, if we offer more pieces in the [IoT] jigsaw puzzle, it may make it easier for our customers to assemble them.
But again, we are in it as a business. We need to think about the business model for offering RF IPs ourselves. Maybe, it makes more sense to create an RF equivalent of Linaro, an open source software for ARM SoCs. The question is how penetrated we will be [in IoT] and how big [IoT] will be.

EE Times: How soon will you be ready with such RF IPs for IoT?
East: Right now, we are sensitive to the issue, we’ve made no decisions, and we need to think about the timing that’s in line with the market.

EE Times: Speaking of Linaro, ARM makes money out of licensing hardware IP. A consortium like Linaro provides related software IP for free. The value is increasingly in the software, which ARM is not monetizing. Has ARM missed the opportunity?

We’ve explored this topic many times internally. Some software can be licensed but there are huge patent issues we need to overcome. Let’s assume that Warren East Software company gets in the software IP business. But the company must assume a huge risk of going bankrupt if someone claims its software IP infringes his. Meanwhile, chip companies – licensees of ARM, for example – can charge more money by adding software IPs to their SoCs. But Warren East Software company could easily undercut the revenue opportunities carefully tuned by SoC vendors.
The rise and penetration of open source software has given rise to Android. An open source software community like Linaro is the right way to go. It’s the way to de-fragment the industry and build confidence in companies investing in chip development.

Related stories:
CES slideshow: Gadgets galore at opener
Stars of DesignCon: Inside-out test verifies low power SoCs
Five more tough DesignCon questions



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