Forecasts for the number of IoT devices and sensors that will be in use in the mid-2020s vary, but they are all in the billions. A key driver of such scale will be extremely low cost, disposable devices, which in turn means a need for chips that cost just pence. This has seemed a faraway goal in many markets, but Dialog Semiconductor is promising the kind of price points that will be needed, with its new 50-cent system-on-chip (SoC) for Bluetooth 5.1.
This SoC adds Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) functionality to a device for as little as $0.50, a low enough price point to work for a disposable device. The DA14531, more snappily branded the SmartBond Tiny, targets applications such as connected medical devices, such as inhalers or glucose.
Based on the ARM Cortex M0+ microcontroller core, the chip comes with a starting size of 2×1.7 millimeters – half the size of its predecessor. It can fit into small form factors such as styluses, shelf labels or RFID tags. It could also replace infrared in consumer devices such as remote controls, or in bank cards. It can be used as a standalone wireless microcontroller or as an RF data pipe extension for existing microcontrollers.
Adrie Van Meijeren, product marketing manager for Dialog, told EETimes: “Up to now, BLE has not been in the disposable markets. This chip has been in development for 2.5 years in response to a request for a super-low power, highly integrated chip for the disposable market.”
Dialog is also offering a module based on the DA14531 to make it simple for customers to add the SoC to products quickly and cheaply, without needing to certify the platform themselves. It says this will be below the target price of $1 for a BLE module.
Such breakthroughs will be important in Dialog’s continuing effort to build up its Industrial IoT business, after the loss of its major deal with Apple to supply power management components. In 2018, Apple acquired Dialog’s battery management assets and expertise in a $600m deal and since then, the smaller firm has been heavily focused on developing differentiated offerings to drive at-scale IoT devices into vertical markets.
In the past two years, it has made three acquisitions to support this activity. Last month, it bought Creative Chips for $80m; in March this year it paid $45m for Silicon Motion’s wireless communications arm, under the brand FCI, gaining low power WiFi assets; and in October 2017, it paid $306m for Silego and its configurable mixed-signal integrated circuit (CMIC) portfolio.