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Meet the chips designed to help solve the challenges of IoT fragmentation and interoperability

Jun 15, 2017

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

As the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem continues to expand, diversity among the variety of devices is leading to a chasm in connectivity. With 20.4 billion connected things expected by 2020, we could be setting ourselves up for disarray. While these “things” are connecting to the internet, they may not be communicating with each other, and therein lies the problem.

From radio technology complexities to multiple protocols and ecosystems, this fragmentation is understandably frustrating for everyone — from manufacturers to providers to consumers. To address this challenge, Qualcomm Technologies developed the QCA4020 tri-mode connectivity system-on-chip (SoC), the IoT industry’s first commercially sampling connectivity solution that integrates three major radios in one low-power, cost-optimized chip (its sibling, the QCA4024, is a dual-mode SoC). This triple combo is designed to allow devices to work on multiple radios technologies, plus support for multiple protocols and ecosystems, so that they can not only connect and talk to each other, but also work with one another.

Working to seamlessly connect the IoT

Refrigerators, TVs, counter top appliances, security systems, thermostats, door locks, and routers and gateways — these are just some of the IoT devices that are clamoring to connect today and in the near future, using different connectivity technologies, software frameworks, and protocols. The QCA4020 SoC is engineered to make their coexistence seamless with support for dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4- and 5-GHz 802.11n), Bluetooth 5, and 802.15.4-based technologies (Zigbee 3.0 and OpenThread).

The QCA4020 can use a single, shared antenna or dual antennas to switch between Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 802.15.4 radios, to help ensure optimal performance and maximum coverage. The IoT chip’s support for Bluetooth 5 means long range and fast speeds than previous Bluetooth generations. The chip also integrates dual-processors, one to manage applications and the other to manage the connectivity. And, last but not least, the chip supports the CSRMesh protocol to help support a security-rich Bluetooth mesh network of IoT devices.

A flexible software platform for interoperability

Complementing the hardware behind the QCA4020 SoC is a software suite of connectivity features. This suite of software features is designed to allow devices to work across communication protocols, IoT ecosystems, cloud services, and software frameworks. With its breakthrough algorithms, the Qualcomm IoT Connectivity Platform is engineered to ensure compatibility of previously disparate technologies to work together seamlessly without interference.

The QCA4020 SoC is also engineered to support a full-networking stack with pre-integrated software for multiple IoT ecosystems (such as HomeKit and OCF specifications), the AWS IoT SDK, and the Microsoft Azure IoT Device SDK, which connects devices with the Azure IoT Hub.

By being compatible with as wide a range of IoT standards as possible, the QCA4020 and the QCA4024 are designed to simplify OEM development and integration, so that interoperability among a variety of devices across multiple IoT ecosystems can concurrently operate.

For example, a user can come home from a long day at work and unlock the connected door with her phone or voice command. Upon entering, she would use her phone or voice to turn on the lights, and turn on the A/C via her connected thermostat. Those are likely three separate tasks, possibly on three different connectivity technologies and separate apps. With QCA4020 powered devices, simply unlocking the door could trigger a series of events, as the door talks to the lights and the lights talk to the thermostat — all in one simultaneous operation.

Giving IoT devices the extra protection it deserves

With the surge of connected devices in the home and public places, implementing security features for IoT devices is a need felt industry-wide. The QCA4020 chip aims to address these issues with robust security features, including secure boot, a trusted execution environment, storage security and key provisioning, wireless protocol security, and secure debugging. Because these technologies are integrated into the silicon, the QCA4020 can replace a separate, external security chip, which can help cut bill-of-materials costs all while offering extra protection to mitigate security threats and vulnerabilities.

In his Network World piece, Senior Vice President of product management for Qualcomm Technologies, Raj Talluri said: “While no connected system can be 100% end-to-end secure, hardware-based features can improve device protection in ways it is not possible with just software.”

The Qualcomm QCA4020/QCA4024 chips address the challenges of fragmentation and interoperability in the IoT industry using a singular framework that can simplify the way virtually all of our connected devices interact with one another.

QCA4020, QCA4024, and Qualcomm Network Connectivity platform are products of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. CSRmesh is a product of Qualcomm Technologies International, Ltd.

Winnie Bekmanis

Staff Manager, IoT Product Marketing

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