SoC and SiP are devices that combine multiple functions in one package provide easy access to innovative semiconductor technologies.
The number of devices connected to the internet is constantly growing. A new forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that there will be 41.6 billion connected IoT devices in 2025, which will generate 79.4 zettabytes of data.
“The world around us is becoming more ‘sensorised’, bringing new levels of intelligence and order to personal and seemingly random environments, and Internet of Things devices are an integral part of this process,” says David Reinsel, Senior Vice President of IDC’s Global DataSphere.
The digitalisation of the world is bringing with it shorter product life cycles and an increasing range of variants. While this has long been the norm for the IT sector, all other industries are now similarly affected. Still, it takes a lot of effort to develop a new hardware product. The process also involves many uncertainties. Such challenges might considerably prolong development time, delay its start and cost a company a good deal of money.
For example, programming IoT modules to gather and send measured values from sensors to the cloud generally takes months. They also requires highly qualified specialists. Major companies can furnish their development departments with the appropriate expertise and range of staff. However, start-ups and sole proprietors do not have these resources at their disposal.
Multiple integrated functions
Despite their disadvantages in this regard, it is increasingly the small, dynamic companies in particular that are launching innovative IoT devices and smart products onto the market. This is partly down to the semiconductor industry. Today, it no longer consists of “pure” microprocessors alone. It also features pre-fabricated modules that already boast numerous functions for a variety of applications.
Modules of this kind are described as a “system-on-a-chip” (SoC) or “system-in-a-package” (SiP). An SoC combines in one microchip all the functions of a system, such as a CPU, signal processor, graphics processor, secure element and connectivity. This enables smaller sizes and higher performance, while reducing costs and energy consumption. Furthermore, a SoC may offers greater design security on the level of the firmware and hardware. In particular, the reduction of costs with SoCs ensures that almost any device or product today can be made “smart”.
SoC and SiP
While an SoC is a single chip containing all the electronics, an SiP comprises individual chips accommodated within a package. Each of these features a specific functionality. The result is “three-dimensional” chips that promise considerable space savings and low installation costs.
“System-in-a-package” solutions are especially suited to customer-specific solutions. They can even be economically manufactured on a small to medium scale. As a further benefit, the package can be perfectly adapted to its application environment. “SiPs present several advantages, and a lot of leading companies have already identified them,” is the analysis of Santosh Kumar from Yole. “These are form-factor reduction, increased performance and functional integration with EMI isolation, lower cost and greater design flexibility compared to stand-alone packages/SoCs.”
Modules from the toolbox
Whether SoC or SiP, if a manufacturer wants to equip a product with smart functionality or integrate it into the Internet of Things, they still need highly integrated technologies. In-house development of such technologies is too slow, laborious and expensive for many companies. Fully pre-configured assemblies are an answer to this conundrum. These not only feature the appropriate semiconductor elements, but actually all components required for fulfilling a specific function.
EBV Elektronik’s Heracles telecommunication module is a good example. The module combines a complete, quad-band GSM/GPRS module with a pre-paid SIM card. It provides coverage and seamless access to Orange’s mobile-communications network and to “Tier 1” roaming networks in 33 European countries. By pre-integrating connectivity during the design phase for the electronics, the design and manufacturing process is made much easier for product manufacturers.
The solution is ideally suited to all manufacturers of IoT objects – be they for automotive, tracking, measurement, industrial or wearables applications. From the end of 2020, the module will also be available with IT security and an integrated microprocessor, which will enable a sensor node (for example) to be quickly realised in line with Narrowband IoT or LTE-M.
What ist the Narrowband IoT and LTE-M?
The availability of very affordable computers like the Raspberry Pi 4 in the form of computing modules. Enable makers, start-ups and even software oriented companies to scale their prototypes and proofs of concept to industrial production. Customers can prototype and develop software with the ready to use Raspberry Pi 4 board and then design their own system. Thereby using the RPI compute module and all the peripherals, communications, interfaces required for their specific application. That is really democratisation of edge technology.