The growing demand for chips used in mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets has been a demand driver for semiconductor companies over the past few years, but what will be the next?
The Computex trade show held last week in Taipei aimed to offer an insight into this question, as the key buzz words like “wearable devices,” “smart technologies” and “cloud computing” — which form part of the emerging trend of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) — were heard at the annual event and seemed to be future demand drivers for the industry, experts said.
“The vision for the future appears to revolve around the connectivity of everyday devices that will proliferate in our daily lives,” researchers at UBS Securities Taipei branch led by William Dong (董成康) said in a report on Friday.
The report said the proliferation of mobile devices in recent years was aided by the convergence between computing and communication technologies, but the next phase of convergence in the era of IoT would be how to further integrate the consumer with the communication and computing segments, it said.
Currently, tech companies are developing home applications and industrial equipment that can be connected to the Web or through cloud platforms to form the Internet of Things (IoT).
“With potential for more new products, this could serve as a demand driver for semiconductors, and hence foundry services,” UBS researchers said.
In his speech at the Taiwan Semiconductor Industry Association’s annual meeting in March, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電) chairman Morris Chang (張忠謀) billed the IoT as the “next big thing” in the tech industry after the smartphone era.
He said there are potentially billions of IoT devices and highlighted three critical semiconductor elements that are needed to make the new era happen; microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensors, low-power consumption, and system-in-packaging (SiP) technology, Chinese-language media reported.
Market researcher International Data Corp has forecast the market for IoT could be worth US$8.9 trillion in revenue by 2020, up from US$4.8 trillion in 2012; Gartner Inc expects the number of IoT devices will surge to 26 billion units by 2020 from 900 million in 2009; while Cisco Systems Inc estimates each person in the world will have an average of 7 IoT devices in 2020, up from 1.8 in 2010.
“The Internet of Things refers to uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an internet-like structure,” Yuanta Securities Corp (元大證券) said in a report published on Tuesday.
If all objects and people in daily life were equipped with identifiers, they could be managed and recognized by computers through radio-frequency-identification (RFID), near field communication (NFC), barcode, quick response code (QR) or other digitization technologies, Yuanta analysts led by George Chang (張家麒) said in the report.
“The IoT is significant because an object that can represent itself digitally becomes something greater than the object by itself,” the report said.
“No longer does the object relate just to the user, but is now connected to surrounding objects and databases,” it said.
“When many objects act in unison, they are referred to as having ambient intelligence,” the report added.
At Computex, MediaTek Inc (聯發科) introduced LinkIt platform for wearables and Internet of Things, and UK-based chip designer ARM Holdings PLC announced it is building a design center in Hsinchu County to develop chips for wearables and the Internet of Things.