Fast, energy-efficient M2M devices in a flash

March 01, 2014

The growing Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) device market faces many challenges, from power constraints to Big Data to security....


According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, global mobile devices and connections in 2013 grew to 7 billion, up from 6.5 billion in 2012. From smartphones to tablets, cars and more, we are seeing a lot of companies focusing on the Internet of Things (IoT) and making connected devices that are more intelligent.

While there has been a heavy focus on simple devices that do simple tasks, there are a significant amount of systems that are gaining the ability to move beyond the node function to routers in order to communicate with one another. This is where the opportunity lies for companies to creatively add value in these systems. Intelligence is moving out toward the edge of the network with a much more intelligent node. A good example of this in the industry is the explosion of activity monitors that now can sense data and crunch that data at the device to trigger a message that can be sent out to a network. Most RF messaging is small amounts of data compared to the data that is being captured at the device itself. Delivering on high-density and faster access requirements will enable the MCU to do more things more quickly and go back to sleep more efficiently.

Additionally, as systems continue to increase in complexity, boot time is becoming even more important for a number of reasons. System developers facing heavy boot times of 18-20 seconds are put in a tough spot in terms of energy savings and system longevity. Spansion’s recently announced Spansion HyperBus Interface and Spansion HyperFlash Memory allow for much faster boot time, direct execute-in-place from flash, and less code shadowing, reducing the amount of RAM needed.

This also ties into another major challenge: graphics. We’re raising a generation of kids who only knows graphics you can touch. We’re going to see a pervasive growth of graphics in areas we’ve never seen before – from automobiles to refrigerators and more. Performance and speed are vital in delivering the promise of this technology and addressing the instant-on and interactive graphical user interface requirements of next-generation electronics. Spansion’s HyperBus Interface dramatically improves read performance while reducing the number of pins, delivering on that market need for speed and reliability.

What design concerns are unique to industrial M2M system/component development?

M2M technology has worked its way into many different markets, but if we were to pinpoint one that’s really driving developments, it’s automotive. The automotive market is massive and expectations of technology in the car continue to grow. The Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) issued a report with research firm SBD last year that claims more than 50 percent of new cars sold during 2015 will offer wireless connectivity either by embedded, tethered, or smartphone integration, and that percentage will grow to include all or nearly all new cars sold in 2025.

When it comes to system and component development there are a few considerations specific to this market that differ from that of the consumer and medical markets. Two key aspects of these systems are reliability and longevity. Where most consumers are replacing their smartphones every two years, the cycle for cars is at least double this, and in most cases far longer. This means the systems powering your digital dashboard, power train, and infotainment systems need to be built to last and that all starts at the embedded level. Spansion NOR flash memory in automotive dashboard electronics allows MCUs to render graphics repeatedly for safety critical information that far exceeds the life of the car. In addition, all Spansion technologies are supported by our longevity commitment so that customers can comfortably design with flash, MCU, and analog devices that will be around for the life of the product – a requirement in more industrial rather than consumer applications.

Overall, industrial applications are rapidly adopting user interfaces that are more typical of consumer electronics. Spansion is positioned to deliver on this need, integrating Human Machine Interfaces (HMI) into our industrial-grade components, and applying the industry’s highest bandwidth interfaces.

How is Spansion addressing security concerns inherent to connected devices?

Consumers and enterprises are doing more with their devices than ever before. They’re managing secure documents, handling banking information, paying bills, and a lot more from their connected devices. Security cannot be looked at from solely a software or hardware perspective. Conversely, security needs to be embedded in the silicon level and this is where flash memory comes into play.

Spansion is addressing security concerns through flash memory, which enables a host of embedded security functions including OTP, software locking, block write protection, and hardware locking to prevent unintentional programming errors and hacking. This also allows for a more secure user experience and high levels of system integrity. Spansion’s technology also makes it possible for a range of encryption, authentication, random number generation, and other security features to live on the chip.  

How does Spansion balance power and performance? What are important power and performance considerations for M2M devices?

When it comes to power and performance, the most interesting thing is that a lot of times they almost seem to fight against each other. If you want to lower power, you suddenly trade off the amount of performance you’re getting out of the chip. At a solution level, many times performance can enhance the battery life if the relationship between the memory and the MCU is optimized for that performance on both sides. Lower latencies and faster bandwidth can allow MCUs to perform power-hungry functions much more efficiently and then enter back into a deep power down mode for ultimate battery saving. Many of today’s wearable devices are like this. If you have an aggressive enough boot time you can reduce the power consumption as well as potential components.

At Spansion, the balance between power and performance is something we keep top of mind. One way we combat this is through deep power down modes. Many of our SPI flash memory families are equipped with this functionality to help minimize the amount of battery power being expelled when a device is not being used.

What technology advances are needed to improve M2M system capabilities?

As the M2M market continues to evolve, we’ll be looking for improvements in security and standardization to connect devices further than ever before. Security will continue to be a pain point when it comes to M2M communication given the sheer amount of data used across connected devices and the age of hacking we live in today.

When it comes to standardization and interoperability, generally systems today are becoming characterized with 3G. While 4G is out there, M2M devices don’t typically require a lot of bandwidth because they are sending simple answers back to the cloud. For growth to really occur, we need to see progress made with the communication standards that guide the communication between electronic devices. There are a number of existing protocols – from ZigBee, an 802 wireless communication standard built by the IEEE to Z-Wave, a wireless home automation protocol that runs on the 908.42 MHz frequency band. The question is how to standardize use across industries. Over the last couple of years, the sheer number of devices that use these different networks, as well as the ecosystem support, has matured quite a bit and you can find large networks of devices that know how to talk to each other in any given category.

What is Spansion working on next in the M2M/Internet of Things space?

Spansion’s strengths nicely complement the market need for more fast and random access memory architectures, which is becoming increasingly important. The wearables market is a perfect example. Although still in its infancy, more than 17 million wearable bands are forecast to ship this year alone, according to a new forecast by Canalys. Many of these devices use advanced NOR flash to hold critical boot code and collect data from the sensors that are on that device. As the densities go up we have solutions for those markets.

Spansion’s dominance in power and performance trade-off with system solutions is also allowing us to accelerate boot times for the automotive and industrial markets. With an aggressive wake up and boot time, as well as deep power down modes, we’re saving on power and enabling devices that at one time needed to be plugged in to now run on battery. At the same time, embedded designers aren’t sacrificing performance. A good example of this is the work we’re doing with Freescale for its Vybrid solutions. Using Spansion’s Dual-Quad Serial Parallel Interface (SPI) NOR flash Double Data Rate (DDR) technology, Linux boot time is reduced to just two seconds, enabling rich HMIs for the industrial, consumer, and automotive markets.

Jeff Shiner is Industrial and Communication Segment Marketing Manager at Spansion. In his role, Jeff develops the industrial and communications company strategies aligning with Flash memory trends and the unique requirements of medical, smart energy, telnet, datacenter and industrial automation applications, to build Spansion’s ecosystem and ensure that the company’s NOR Flash memory portfolio leads the industry.






Monique DeVoe (Managing Editor)