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Atmel marks spot in IoT space

Posted: 25 Jun 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IoT? Internet of Things? MEMS? vendor?

Three words define Atmel's focus these days: Internet of Things. According to its website, the company describes itself as a vendor of "the most comprehensive, the most highly integrated IoT solution." However, Atmel is not alone in this claim, so what makes it any different from the others?

We recently caught up with Reza Kazerounian, senior vice president and general manager of the Microcontroller Group at Atmel Corporation, for a phone interview.

Although Atmel is reportedly looking for a potential buyer, Kazerounian steered clear of the topic. He told EE Times, "The [Atmel] board hasn't made the decision [to sell the company] and I shouldn't make a comment [on the subject]."

Nonetheless, Atmel has been eager to pitch the company's IoT strategy story, and the executive is talking about it.


Kazerounian: IoT is a fragmented market.

First off, Kazerounian acknowledged that IoT is a chronically fragmented market running "across many applications."

This fragmentation suggests that IoT is tough to crack for most vendors. However, Kazerounian, a veteran industry executive with a long history in the MCU marketstarting from STMicroelectronics to Freescale and now with Atmelstressed that Atmel thrives on broad-based customers pursuing different solutions and applications. Knowing the embedded market inside out, he noted, "This [IoT] is a market very attractive to us."

Unlike newcomers on the IoT bandwagon, Atmel takes pride in its history with vendors focused on "traditional applications" (white goods, thermostats, energy meters, etc.) and those who innovate newer IoT applications such as wearable, medical and sports activity tracking. Atmel sees its ability to cater to this variety of customers as one of its greatest strengths.

Atmel's place in the IoT universe, as Kazerounian explained, is in wireless routers/smartphones and customised gateways. Atmel is not present in the enterprise IoT space where databases and servers play critical roles.

Atmel's IoT portfolio includes the industry's lowest power ARM Cortex-M based MCU solution (with power consumption down to 35?A/MHz in active mode and 200nA in sleep mode), high-performing Cortex-M7-based MCUs, crypto authentication products, a range of wireless solutions that includes everything from ZigBee, Bluetooth Low Energy to Wi-Fi and Sub-GHz connectivity. Atmel also offers a "cloud-ready" Wi-Fi/Bluetooth combo platform.

No MEMs, no sensors

Asked about Atmel's IoT portfolio and how it differs from competitors, Tony Massimini, chief of technology at Semico Research, reminded us, "Atmel has no MEMs, no sensors."

Massimini, however, added that this is "not necessarily a weakness." After all, a MEMs giant like Bosch "wants to be everyone's partner," Massimini said, and OEMs prefer to choose the types of sensors they use.

Asked about the variety of wireless connectivity solutions Atmel has amassed, Massimini said, "The wireless portfolio has become check-box items these days. I am hard pressed to find major MCU vendors without wireless solutions."

The key to IoT is an ecosystem to support IoT applications, said Massimini. Atmel's strength is in its aggressive pursuit of partnerships, critical to building an ecosystem. In that regard, "it's hard to find holes" in Atmel's IoT strategy, he said.

Competitions in MCUs and wireless

But really, how does Atmel stack up in IoT? Does it really beat "other companies" as Atmel seems to imply?

Kazerounian said, "Let me calibrate what I meant by 'other companies.'" The Atmel executive broke the company's competition into two categories: First, there's the IoT race among broad-based MCU vendors. Second, there's IoT competition among connectivity chip vendors.

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