The IoT market wouldn't be the same without system-on-a-chip (SoC) technology. IoT devices can be expensive and face compatibility issues, making them unfit for commercial applications, but these everything-in-one chips address that. If you're going to build a product consumers can use, you need to consider your SoC.
Without a reliable SoC, IoT sensors need additional hardware to connect to a network. That can quickly get expensive, and consumers won't appreciate it. On the other hand, wireless-enabled SoCs allow IoT devices to offer compatibility and connectivity out of the box.
IoT developers are spoiled for choice when it comes to SoC options today. The IoT chip market made $8.33 billion in 2018, and it keeps growing as more companies offer additional selections. With all this variety at your fingertips, choosing the right SoC is more critical than ever.
It can be tempting to choose an SoC based on a single attribute. You may pick the cheapest one to pursue affordability or the most powerful to create a higher-end device. SoCs are complex devices, though, as is your IoT product, so it requires further consideration.
As an example, imagine you wanted to produce a versatile, upgradable IoT product. If you go with a quickly made, bottom-up designed SoC, it could limit your upward integration, making further updates expensive and challenging. If you had considered flexibility from the beginning, this wouldn't be an issue.
There's no one answer for which SoC is the best for a commercial IoT device because there's far too much variation. You have a specific idea for what you want your product to do, so your SoC should fit those unique needs.
Whether you're designing a custom SoC or shopping from pre-built options, you should consider a few things. The end product you want to produce should inform all of your decisions regarding your SoC. Think of what you want your device to do and cost, then base your decisions on that.
Three of the most important considerations are compatibility, your wireless protocol and power. Here's a closer look at each of those categories and what you should consider within them.
First, you think about compatibility. The first compatibility issue to consider is what programming languages the SoC supports. C is the gold standard for SoC programming, but you may want an SoC that offers C++ or Python support as well.
You should also consider physical compatibility, like if there are enough I/O ports for your other components. If you want to add additional parts, you need to ensure your SoC has enough PCIe slots. Depending on your product, you may also need USB or HDMI ports.
You could also have components like cameras, motion sensors or lights. Every one of these will come with unique I/O and firmware requirements. Not every SoC will be compatible with every peripheral, so you need to keep these in mind.
One of the most significant challenges in wireless IoT development is conflicting wireless protocols. Your customers likely own multiple IoT devices, so the more interconnectivity you offer, the better. As such, when you pick or design your SoC, keep your desired protocols in mind.
Which protocol will work best depends on the type of product you're making. Bluetooth is ideal for short-range data transfer, but not for devices that will be further apart. If you're building something with more automation features, you may want to go with ZigBee or Z-Wave.
Developments like the Connected Home over IP project could create new standards, so keep an eye on that, too. As new protocols emerge, offering support for them could make your product more marketable.
You don't have to stick to just one protocol, either. If you want your device to be as versatile as possible, you should look for an SoC with multiprotocol functionality.
Another thing you need to consider is power. When you're dealing with wireless IoT devices, range is a crucial consideration, and power ties into that. The more electricity your SoC can handle, the more coverage you can achieve.
You also have to consider your device's power source. If it plugs into an outlet, you can safely implement a more power-hungry SoC and use more energy without limiting your range.
Many IoT applications require batteries for power. You must consider efficiency because if your SoC uses too much power, you won't have enough left over to extend your coverage. Alternatively, you could divert more energy toward your range at the cost of shorter battery life.
There are a few other things you should think about, too. Naturally, you want to keep an eye on price since you want your device to be affordable. One commonly overlooked consideration is physical space, but you don't want your SoC to be so big that it doesn't fit your product.
Sometimes, you may run into legal obstacles. For example, Raspberry Pi is versatile, but you could encounter licensing issues if you use one in a commercial device.
The SoC market is as varied as the IoT itself. Selecting the right SoC for your consumer wireless IoT device isn't always straightforward, but it's an essential step. If you take the time to go over all of your options, you can find the best fit for you.
The time you spend finding the right SoC is worth the results. When you find the best option, you can create the best device.
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