IoT Market to Boost Scale of Multicore MCU Shipments by Staggering 1.3 Billion Units by 2020

ABI Research Examines Multicore versus Single-Core MCUs in Various IoT Verticals
01 Dec 2015

According to a new market study by ABI Research, a leader in technology market intelligence, the IoT market will be responsible for 150 million unit shipments of multicore microcontroller unit (MCU) chips in 2015, with that number to rise to an impressive 1.3 billion units by 2020, a 54% CAGR. Industrial IoT, wearables and smart home are the current key market drivers, with the majority of the future growth coming from the smart home industry, which will represent 450 million of the total multicore MCU shipments, accounting for 36% of market share by 2020. This growth will be driven by more integrated connectivity and sensor processing hubs and an ongoing shift toward implementing innovative software solutions.

Read ABI Research’s Market Opportunities for MCUs/MPUs in IoT report.

“Traditionally, device manufacturers tend to use multiple single-core MCUs to handle a device’s multiple sensor functions and connectivity solutions,” says Malik Saadi, Vice President of Strategic Technology at ABI Research. “While this trend continues to be a dominant strategy due to the design simplicity, faster prototyping and time to market of single-core MCUs, such an approach yields products with little or no flexibility for over-the-air updates, resulting in limited product lifespans.”

To accommodate future IoT applications, network scalability, interoperability, embedded intelligence and, most importantly, energy-efficiency are necessary components for the next generation of IoT devices. Such requirements will afford future devices the flexibility to provide longevity and handle constant updates, while making it a necessity to integrate a multicore MCU. Subsequently, the multicore MCU will empower intelligent software to support innovative features and advanced functionalities, such as sensor fusion or artificial intelligence.

There are already well-established low-power, low-cost multicore MCUs available on the market, many of which include integrated connectivity, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and IEEE 802.15.4, as well as various MEMS sensors, such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, temperature and magnetometers. Some MCU vendors, such as Freescale and Texas Instruments, are strategically preparing for the future by proactively adopting strategies for multicore MCUs, targeting heterogeneous connectivity and sensor functions. Others, however, such as STMicroelectronics and NXP, are lagging behind, partially due to their heavy focus on legacy products and clients, which, in most cases, do not require advanced capabilities and do not involve innovative software solutions. 

Moving forward, it is fundamental that MCU suppliers support as many connectivity and sensing solutions into a single MCU as possible in an effort to boost scale and optimize cost, silicon area, power consumption and future integration of smart functionalities. IoT device manufacturers, in turn, will need to customize their products, using various connectivity and sensing functions available in the market, to enable a multitude of advanced features and adapt to the various and rapidly changing market requirements.

“MCU manufacturers will need to shift strategy toward developing multicore, multi-function MCUs, whereas IoT product manufacturers should select the most efficient MCUs to produce devices able to mix and match different connectivity and sensing solutions available in the market,” concludes Saadi. “This choice will be detrimental to the success of future products.”

These findings are part of ABI Research’s IoE Semiconductors Service, which includes research reports, market data, insights and competitive assessments.

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