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JJD: What are the largest technology challenges in fulfilling Internet of Things (IoT) market demand and growth?

TM: It’s important to note that some semiconductor manufacturers focus on edge devices for the IoT and other hyperconnected applications. In contrast, companies like Microsemi are primarily focused on the associated communications infrastructures and how they are being impacted by growing security requirements—not just in the IoT, but also in the power grid, avionics, mobile networks, medical telemetry, transportation, and space systems, among others.

Fig. 1From our standpoint, there are several challenges in the IoT space—the first being availability of a proper Internet connection throughout the home or enterprise environment. Available connectivity drives the need for technologies like power line communications (PLC). The second challenge relates to content and applications that can apply to in-car communications as easily as smart TVs and others. Once the connection, content, and applications are available, there also is the issue of ease of use and flexibility. Finally, security becomes important in a hyperconnected world. Communication must be secured against malicious monitoring and modification if connected machines are to be used safely and with confidence. This is most effectively achieved with machine-to-machine (M2M) authentication using Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), where the Private Key in the Public/Private Key scheme is derived from a physically unclonable function (PUF).

Additionally, both a key challenge and common requirement for IoT and other infrastructure segments is “time.” There is a need to discover how to harness time in order to synchronize secure communications systems, protocols, and applications so they all work together. Technologies for timing and synchronization solutions include ICs focused on timing for package networks and open transport network (OTN) systems. Otherwise, solutions are already available to tackle the challenges that arise across the rest of the IoT’s security, power, reliability, and performance requirements. Examples include field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs); RF and mixed-signal technology; and integrated circuits spanning applications including Power over Ethernet (PoE) and Reverse Power Feed (RPF), for next-generation power and data networking.

JJD: As the smart vehicle—specifically the electric car—is becoming a major part of our connected world, where does vehicle-to-grid (V2G) communications come into play?

TM: According to Navigant Research, V2G applications modulate the power flowing to (and in some cases, from) electric vehicles (EVs) to enable grid operators to match power supply and demand. This capability is expected to make the grid more energy efficient. The firm has reported that by 2022, demand response programs will be able to control nearly 640 MW of load from EVs. In the V2G infrastructure, however, privacy concerns will again be an issue. Plugging the vehicles in the recharging infrastructure may expose such private information as a user’s locations and traveling habits.

JJD: How are the technologies developed for V2G communications also useful for RF applications for home automation, industrial IoT, and smart-grid solutions?

TM: In today’s enterprise, telecommunications, and mobile-network infrastructures, a host of requirements is pushing semiconductor solutions to help implement, secure, and synchronize everything from X-band weather/radar systems and GPS solutions to medical telemetry and mobile backhaul equipment. One of these application examples is the power grid, which is moving to a two-way system in which homes can generate their own electricity with solar energy. Such systems require secure and precise bidirectional communications between utilities and customers for more efficient power production and use.

JJD: As everything becomes connected and that information is readily available, what are some concerns for IoT security regarding home, automotive, and personal devices in particular?

TM: Security is a major concern for the remote, increasingly compact, and power-conscious advanced systems that support the IoT. These systems offer an ideal gateway for malevolent hackers. As a result, there is a critical need for security solutions that protect embedded intellectual property, system data, and the system itself by defending against the installation of malicious code, cloning, reverse-engineering, or tampering. Field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) play a key role in meeting these objectives.

JJD: As a recent component in all flexible radio devices, how are FPGAs enabling cutting-edge security features for IoT solutions?

TM: FPGAs are making base-level security easy to use and adopt by system architects. As FPGAs with embedded processors become the core of new systems, system-on-a-chip (SoC) FPGAs will ideally be provided with leading-edge embedded security features. Examples include physical unclonable functions (PUFs), cryptographic accelerators, random number generators, and Differential Power Analysis (DPA). With such countermeasures in place, the system architect can layer in the security needed throughout the system.

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