Marvell and MediaTek join IoT rush June 09 2014

Mobile chip vendors all racing to the growth promised by connected devices, latest entrants favor ZigBee

By Caroline Gabriel

In the rush into the IoT, spurred we feel in part by Apple's recent smart home announcements, Marvell and MediaTek are both hoping that their silicon will comprise a large part of the new markets. Both vendors have announced new chips this week, which we'll outline below.

The announcements help secure the position of ZigBee in the IoT ecosystem thanks to the support of these two silicon vendors. The two biggest chip makers, Broadcom and Qualcomm, have both backed Bluetooth and WiFi in favor of ZigBee or Z-Wave. As ZigBee gains ground, it will be interesting to see whether either of the two change their minds.

Marvell has unveiled what it claims is the industry's most complete line of silicon platform solutions, targeting wearables, home automation and security, personal healthcare, automotive, lighting, the industrial internet and more," - so pretty much every 'thing' then. The key part of Marvell's announcement is that the SoCs are Apple compatible and have all been registered as MFi (Made For iPhone) certified, which guarantees that they'll work with Apple's smart home ambitions.

The new product family features the EZ-Connect software platform, and includes the MW300 WiFi, the MB300 Bluetooth and the MZ100 ZigBee microcontrollers. EZ-Connect SDKs and APIs are available to developers, which Marvell says will "save months of software development efforts to leverage the full potential of a built-in microcontroller on the SoC." It's worth pointing out that it's very much in Marvell's interest to make the SoCs easy to use, especially amongst an IoT environment that often features DIY and crowdfunded startup projects.

The MW300 SoC features 802.11n WiFi and has been designed to allow low-power states in standby and reduced power consumption while active. I/O interfaces include SPI, I2C, UART, I2S, PWM, ADC and DAC, which will help developers reduce the bill of materials. An ARM Cortex-M4F drives the unit and should allow it to stream video to other IoT devices - the perfect SoC for an IP security camera.

The MB300 SoC supports dual-mode Bluetooth 4.1, for concurrent Bluetooth Classic and Smart operations. Its I/O scheme is the same as the MW300 but also includes ACOMP, IR, Keyscan and Touch Button. A high resolution Analog to Digital Convertor with direct connectors for microphones provides built-in voice capability for the microcontroller. It also uses the Cortex-M4.

The MZ100, as its name suggests, supports the ZigBee protocol but also the full IEEE 802.15.4 protocol. Based around a Cortex-M3, Marvell says its 10+dB link-budget margin is the best in the industry, and offers the best coexistence with WiFi and Bluetooth. I/O interfaces include SPI, I2C, UART, PWM, ADC, DAC and ACOMP, with a software stack supporting ZLL, ZHA, and 6LoWPAN.

MediaTek, meanwhile, has announced its new LinkIt development platform, which it hopes will accelerate IoT and wearable projects. LinkIt uses the Aster SoC, which MediaTek claims is the smallest wearable SoC on the market, measuring just 5.4x6.2mm.

Aster supports ARM7 EJS (Embedded JavaScript), Bluetooth 3.0 and 4.0, with 4MB of flash memory and 4MB of SRAM. The LinkIt platform allows the SoC to receive over the air updates to firmware and software. LinkIt also has a high degree of software architecture modularity, according to MediaTek, which provides a more flexible development process, including a plug-in SDK for both Arduino and VisualStudio.

MediaTek's GM of New Business Development, J. C. Hsu, said that "MediaTek is now in a unique position to assume leadership by unifying the fragmented IoT market, thanks to our LinkIt platform. We are enabling the maker movement - an ecosystem of device makers, application developers and service providers to create innovations and new solutions for the Super-mid market."

LinkIt will also form the heart of MediaTek Labs - a program to stimulate and support developers using the LinkIt platform. The project will open in the third quarter of 2014, and hopes to encourage development using the Aster SoC. While MediaTek puts on an altruistic front, it is clear that if it can spur developers to use its silicon in the next big thing, it will generate new channels of revenue.

"MediaTek has grown into a market leader, but is still a very young and entrepreneurial company, eager to grow and change with the market," says Johan Lodenius, Chief Marketing Officer of MediaTek. "We identify with creative and driven pioneers in the developer community, and see value in building an ecosystem that is inclusive of their talents and efforts to innovate. Our position is clear, as a horizontally focused chipset platform partner we will contribute to create more value for the ecosystem than we capture."

According to Johan Lodenius, Chief Marketing Officer at MediaTek, "MediaTek has grown into a market leader, but it is still a very young and entrepreneurial company, eager to grow and change with the market. We identify with creative and driven pioneers in the development community, and see value in building an ecosystem that is inclusive of their talents and efforts to innovate. Our position is clear, as a horizontally focused chipset platform partner we will contribute to create more value for the ecosystem than we capture."

Broadcom also announced a new chip for the IoT this week. The BCM58300 is the latest addition to the StrataGX family of SoCs, and uses an ARM Cortex-A9 CPU clocked at 1.25GHz. Broadcom sees it finding a place in security, multimedia and communications systems for the smart home, as well as other embedded applications in the business and industrial markets.