MY TAKE: The role of semiconductors in bringing the ‘Internet of Everything’ into full fruition

By Byron V. Acohido

The Internet of Everything (IoE) is on the near horizon.

Related: Raising the bar for smart homes

Our reliance on artificially intelligent software is deepening, signaling an era, just ahead, of great leaps forward for humankind.

We would not be at this juncture without corresponding advances on the hardware side of the house. For instance, very visibly over the past decade, Internet of Things (IoT) computing devices and sensors have become embedded everywhere.

Not as noticeably, but perhaps even more crucially, big advances have been made in semiconductors, the chips that route electrical current in everything from our phones and laptops to automobile components and industrial plant controls.

I recently visited with Thomas Rosteck, Division President of Connected Secure Systems (CSS) at Infineon Technologies, a global semiconductor manufacturer based in Neubiberg, Germany. We discussed how the Internet of Things, to date, has been all about enabling humans to leverage smart devices for personal convenience.

“What has changed in just the past year is that things are now starting to talk to other things,” Rosteck observes. “Smart devices and IoT systems are beginning to interconnect with each other and this is only going to continue.”

This ascension to the next level of connectivity is underscored by Matter 1.0, the new home automation connectivity standard rolling out this holiday season. Matter paves the way for not just more Internet-connected gadgetry; it makes possible a new tier of highly interoperable digital systems providing amazing services that are highly secure and that intrinsically preserve individual privacy.

For a full drill down on our evocative discussion please watch the accompanying videocast. Here are the main takeaways:

Dispersing electricity

Strictly speaking, a semiconductor is any crystalline solid that resists the flow of electricity in a distinctive way. We call them microchips or just chips and they are the building blocks of diodes, transistors and integrated circuits – the components that direct electrical current to carry out processing routines.

Semiconductors are the hardware components that make up the nervous system of each and every smart device — from tiny sensors to sprawling cloud servers and everything in between. Rosteck outlined how advanced semiconductors will be indispensable in two broad areas going forward: power modules and microcontrollers. Both come into play across the breadth of IoT and, even more so, with respect to IoE.


For instance, semiconductor power modules enable the generation, transmission and consumption of electricity in everything from the control room of a modern industrial plant to the timer on your smart coffee grinder.

Power modules must continue to advance; energy consumption of big digital systems must continue to become more and more efficient to support the smart commercial buildings and transportation systems of the near future, Rosteck says.

With power modules circulating electricity very efficiently at a macro level, advanced microcontrollers can grab the spotlight. These are the unseen chipsets that carry out discreet tasks, such as activating your smart auto’s proximity sensors and rear view camera or controlling your smart home’s thermostat and garage door opener.

Microcontrollers are, in essence, mini computing engines; today they serve mainly as the knobs and flip switches of IoT; going forward they’ll evolve into sophisticated controls that make complex decisions, autonomously, as part of new IoE systems.

Energy at the edges

How microcontrollers distribute energy is a very big deal. Innovation in the semiconductor industry is focused on finding smarter ways to disperse tiny bursts of electricity to a sprawling galaxy of IoT devices and new IoE systems. Energy needs to be dispersed very efficiently, in just the right measure, to support the machine intelligence routines increasingly taking place at the cloud edge, Rosteck explained.

“When I transport energy or when I consume energy, I must do this efficiently, meaning not wasting energy by ‘turning it on its head,’ but turning energy into what I really want to use it for,” he says.

Rosteck described for me a smart home of the near future. It would be equipped with array of Internet-connected devices that work in concert to optimize energy consumption. Unseen and unnoticed by the resident, interconnected systems would be capable of correlating real-time weather data, traffic patterns and the resident’s work schedule and then calculate the precise amount of energy needed on a given day, or even hour of the day.

Such smart homes could become the norm in the era of IoE. This would lead to an optimum blending of private and public sources of energy. Individual consumers could tap solar energy from their roof tops, public utilities would supply power from legacy power plants as well as from new renewable energy operations.

The result: energy conservation would advance significantly. It’s notable that technologists and social scientists are discussing how to leverage interconnected digital infrastructure, i.e. the Internet of Everything, to foster similar “greater good” scenarios in other arenas. This includes mainstreaming autonomous transportation systems, perhaps even redistributing wealth more equitably across the planet.

Baking in security

First, however, two things need to radically change: digital systems must be able to interconnect much more seamlessly than is possible at this moment; and cybersecurity needs to rise to a much higher level. And this is where Matter 1.0 comes into play.

To start, any Matter-compliant smart home device will be able to interoperate with whatever virtual assistant the resident might have. Making it possible for a consumer to use Amazon AlexaGoogle Assistant,  Apple HomeKit or Samsung SmartThings  to operate all types of Matter-compliant devices is a giant step in convenience — and a small step toward a much greater good. Work has commenced on future iterations of Matter that will make IoT systems in commercial buildings and healthcare facilities much more interoperable than is the case today.

Cybersecurity remains a major obstacle that must be dealt with. Interconnected systems that can easily be hacked, of course, would be untenable. Thus, Matter sets forth an extensive process for issuing a “device attestation certificate” for each Matter-compliant device. This process revolves around extending the tried-and-true Public Key Infrastructure framework and associated Digital Certificates that assure website authenticity and carry out encryption across the legacy Internet.

That said, Matter is a new kind of tech standard. The standards that allowed the legacy Internet to blossom commercially – protocols skewed toward open and anonymous access — also doomed networks to be endlessly vulnerable to breaches. By stark contrast, Matter requires robust security of our next generation of interconnected devices and systems to be deeply secure from day one.

“If you bake a cake, you can’t change the flavor of the cake once it’s finished baking. It’s the same with standards, you must think about security from the beginning,” Rosteck says. “Matter is the first standard that I know of that accounted for security in the beginning.”

Indeed, when Google, Amazon, Apple and Samsung convened three years ago to draw up Matter, one of the very first moves the tech giants championed was to set up a security work group, Rosteck says. This is how security got baked in from the start. And the result is that the Matter standard is poised to foster a quickening of hardware and software advances that will take us to the next level of connectivity — securely.

There’s still a long way to go. I’ll keep watch and keep reporting.


Pulitzer Prize-winning business journalist Byron V. Acohido is dedicated to fostering public awareness about how to make the Internet as private and secure as it ought to be.

(LW provides consulting services to the vendors we cover.)


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