IEEE Talks IoT: Joel Huloux

Joel Huloux

Joel Huloux, a senior member of IEEE, is chairman of the board of MIPI Alliance and director of lobbying and standardization, strategic planning for the microcontroller and digital ICs group at STMicroelectronics. In this interview, he discusses the challenges of integrating devices for the Internet of Things (IoT) and the strategic role interface specifications will play.

Question: How important are standards and specifications to the Internet of Things?


Joel Huloux: The IoT is already very broad and diverse and rapidly expanding. Connected devices and applications are generating massive amounts of sensor data and this trend will only grow. Companies need low-complexity designs that are easy to implement and that access and make use of sensor data while operating at very low power. They need specifications to enable these types of capabilities.


For example, IoT designs must minimize pin count, but implementing multiple sensors in a design with traditional technologies can actually increase pin count due to the currently fragmented sensor interface market. Another challenge is that sensors are typically based on larger-geometry mechanical and analog technologies, not the leading-edge digital process technologies used for high-speed components. Rather than operating at GHz-level frequencies, sensors need a versatile, practical and efficient low-power interface that can support continuous data collection and transmission from multiple types of sensors without compromising battery life.

Question: What IoT trends are you following today?

Huloux: The IoT is building so rapidly that time-to-market is essential. To streamline development, companies need an IoT-ready platform of standards-based interfaces that can connect various types of modules in a device.

The industry needs forward-thinking specifications that can address current and future needs for hardware and software integration. Data generated by IoT is stressing bandwidth capabilities and computing power. In a few years, 5G will offer 1 Gbps data services. Developers are adopting 32-bit microcontrollers to support advanced features. The industry is also looking for open-source software for low levels of the software stack so they can focus their resources on developing higher-level applications.

Question: How would you characterize IoT applications and associated interface specifications?

Huloux: To me, the primary connection for IoT is the interface between the sensor and the controller. As I mentioned, traditional sensor interfaces are highly fragmented. MIPI Alliance has recently released to its members a draft version of the MIPI I3C specification, which consolidates interfaces for mobile and other devices. The specification, defined in cooperation with the MEMS and Sensor Industry Group, uses only two pins, enables data rates of 10 Mbps and higher and offers advanced features like dynamic addressing and multi-master support. The design facilitates connecting multiple sensors from different vendors to reduce costs and complexity and use very little power.

IoT developers also need to deal with a wide variety of air interface options. Devices could connect over various Wi-Fi standards as well as the new Wi-Fi HaLo standard. LTE, which already uses a plethora of frequency bands, will work in even more frequencies in the coming years. The new Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) standard and the expected new 5G air interface will add options and complexity. I believe mobile interfaces will consolidate in some way eventually, but it’s too soon to say how this will evolve.

Question: How influential has the mobile industry been in advancing IoT technology?

Huloux: The mobile industry has led the way in minimizing the number of interfaces to increase efficiencies and reduce costs. The industry’s interfaces also help manage electromagnetic interference (EMI) to support multiple radios and frequency channels. The interfaces are mature and already supported in most mobile devices, which will benefit IoT.

MIPI Alliance has specialized in this work since 2003, when it was founded to help manufacturers efficiently interface cameras, display modules, application processors and other components sourced from different vendors. Every smartphone uses at least one MIPI Alliance specification. Every day we learn of more devices that use our interfaces. The applications are not limited to mobile handsets: MIPI Alliance interfaces are also used by many other industries, from automotive to robotics, healthcare, and others.

Question: What are some specifications that are helping drive IoT applications and products?

Huloux: Beyond the obvious area of smartphones, Wearables as a category was an early IoT application. Many of the first smart watches and fitness trackers used the MIPI Display Serial Interface (MIPI DSI). Another interface helping drive IoT is the MIPI Camera Serial Interface (MIPI CSI), which supports feature-rich head-mounted devices and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) for cars, among others. The MIPI I3C solution for sensors is the next interface that we expect will have strong industry acceptance and influence on IoT.

Question: Is there anything related to IoT that you believe needs more attention?

Huloux: Security will be very important, especially considering the types and volumes of data IoT will generate. Various organizations are addressing security today, yet too many IoT solutions are still deployed with security flaws, exposing devices to breaches, data leakage, or data manipulation.

Some companies will address the issue with “security by design” or data governance policies. The industry is working on a scalable security architecture so vendors can provide levels of security depending on the application, risk and cost. The approach uses systems security partitioning, with risk management technology, to identify critical assets or information and define minimum security requirements for a secure connectivity implementation.

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