ARM talks IoT security and 5G modems

At the recent MWC event mobile chip designer ARM launched a new design aimed squarely at the Internet of Things, with a focus on improved end-point security.

ARM broadly sub-divides its Cortex-branded chip designs into three families of successively smaller footprint: A for application processors; R for realtime, which is mainly modems; and M for microcontrollers.

The big launch at the show was the Cortex-A32, which is aimed at the next generation of embedded devices. There is a long journey from ARM announcing a new design to it appearing in commercial products as chip-makers such as Qualcomm and Mediatek need to take the time to design SoCs around that design and test them before bringing them to market. So the A32 will be powering IoT devices from 2017 onwards. caught up with Nandan Nayampally, VP Marketing and Strategy, ARM CPU Group at MWC to find out more. “The Cortex-A32 is ARMv8-A architecture, but 32-bit only, so it keeps a lot of the good stuff the architecture brings, such as parallelism and cryptography but is 25% more efficient than its predecessor, the Cortex-A7,” he said. “The A32 is aimed more towards the upper end of the IoT device spectrum, such as wearables, industrial computers, etc.”

Immediately before the show ARM also launched the Cortex-R8, which is being positioned as a pre-5G evolution of the current Cortex-R family. “The Cortex-R8 is targeted at client-side modems that can support 5G levels of performance and latency,” said Nayampally. “Currently we have R4, R5 and R7, the last of which is starting to ramp in 4G and is more than capable of handling cat 10 and cat 12, and when you go past that is where the Cortex R8 comes in. We expect to see samples of that by the end of this year.”

A central theme of MWC was the triangular interdependence of IoT, 5G and the cloud, and ARM sees itself as central to this vision and since its silicon will appear in all parts of the food-chain, thinks it’s in a unique position to make the whole process more secure. “The future is more about how data goes between the system and the cloud,” said Nayampally. “We call it the intelligent, flexible cloud and it’s very distributed networking, compute and storage capabilities.”

“On the end-point side you’re seeing more and more of these sensing-type solutions new ways to use them, and more importantly the services that are being developed for them. There are over 3,000 catalogue parts based on the Cortex M today, which makers have used to come up with interesting new IoT solutions. But where we’re seeing a lot of activity is in securing these things.”

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