Riot starts with a claim to industry’s lowest power NB-IoT and eMTC baseband chip

Riot Micro's RM1000

Internet of Things (IoT) newcomer, Riot Micro is claiming that a radical design approach applying BLE/Wi-Fi architecture has delivered a new cellular IoT solution with cost/power levels that are characteristic of short-range wireless systems. Here Peter Wong, CEO, tells  Jeremy Cowan how Riot has reinvented itself as an IoT chipset maker.

Semiconductor start-ups are rare things these days. But Vancouver, Canada-based Riot Micro has made its IoT market debut with what it claims is the industry’s lowest power baseband modem chip for cellular IoT.

The company began life a decade ago working on LTE IP technology to licence to the general market. Then three years ago, in search of faster growth Riot changed direction and brought in Peter Wong as CEO. “We retooled and refinanced,” he tells IoT Now, “grew to about 30 people, and developed a chip for cellular IoT, based on LTE NB1 and eMTC specifications.”

Peter Wong, Riot Micro’s CEO

“Why IoT?” we ask.

“Because that’s where the majority of growth was. If you look at other cellular technologies – you know Cat 3, 4 , 5, 6 – as you go higher and higher for the smartphones and tablets of the world it gets harder and harder for a start-up to compete realistically. The key differentiators are integration and powerful processors with Snapdragons etc., and going up against the Qualcomms of the world didn’t make a whole lot of sense,” says Wong.

“When the standards started to evolve for M2M (machine-to-machine communications) it looked like there could be a significant inflexion point where the requirements changed significantly and where processor technology was not the King of the Game. It was about optimising for more performance and lower power, and of course much, much lower cost.”

“Cost being a huge factor in services with low ARPUs (average revenues per user),” IoT Now suggests.

“Exactly. That drove why we formed the team that we did. LTE is a relatively sophisticated protocol and technology relative to other wireless technologies like BLE and WiFi. But when you break it right down and look at NB1 and eMTC we felt there was a ton of simplification you could do technically and implementatikon-wise and speed-wise. When you’re driving 200kbps or even 1Mb you can take certain design approaches that are extremely power-efficient and really help drive the cost down. The memory is an example. We optimised the LTE protocol stack so that it only does NB1 and MTC. We could minimise the amount of memory required. Our protocol stack operates entirely within the memory within our chip.”

So the Riot Micro RM1000 has been built using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Wi-Fi architecture techniques to deliver a cellular IoT solution with the low power and cost levels of short-range wireless systems. The RM1000 is now being offered to module manufacturers and OEMs designing narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and eMTC systems that can include automotive, asset management, home automation, industrial, point-of-sale, smart energy, and vending applications.

Asked who the company sees as its key rivals, Peter Wong tells IoT Now it would be companies like Sequans, and Altair which was acquired by Sony. (Also see: CLOE IoT tracker platform to be demoed at Mobile World Congress Americas, and Altair unveils miniature chipset platform designed to support future IoT applications.)

Design cuts power consumption ‘by up to 50%’

To develop the RM1000, privately-owned Riot Micro assembled a team of engineers – many of them ex-BlackBerry employees – with extensive expertise in Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and LTE design to create an LTE PHY and L2/L3 protocol stack specifically optimised to meet the 3GPP release 13 requirements for Cat-NB1, NB-IoT and Cat-M1 eMTC.

By providing granular control over system resources, the innovative hardware-based architecture minimises active power consumption in all use cases. This design approach significantly reduces silicon area and active power consumption compared to alternative signal processor-based solutions.

“Riot Micro’s innovative approach, leveraging proven design techniques from BLE and
Wi-Fi into the world of LTE, will drive down system cost and power. We want to enable
cellular IoT mass deployment. That will require the cost and energy needs driven to
similar levels as BLE, and our approach gets us there,” says Peter Wong, CEO of Riot
Micro. “We are thrilled with the feedback from lead customers and partners, who’ve confirmed that we offer the only viable NB-IoT platform to enable the price points and
battery life required for mass deployment of IoT applications.”

How to optimise size, power and cost

Riot’s RM1000 is a hardware-centric baseband controller, tightly coupled to an optimized
LTE protocol stack running on an ultra-power efficient integrated processor. The PHY
layer implemented completely in hardware enables minimal eDRX cycle power
consumption and extremely fast wake/sleep transition times. These power savings mean
that IoT modules based on the RM1000 can run longer on lower capacity batteries,
further saving on system cost. Riot’s hardware-based architecture assures that power
consumption is always minimised regardless of traffic patterns and use cases.

Alternative solutions typically require a 100MHz+ processor speed, external memory,
and on-chip PLLs for a high-speed clock, increasing silicon area, power consumption,
and cost. Software-based PHY solutions also have longer startup and shutdown due to
firmware load and processing, which ultimately costs battery life.

IoT Now asks what have been the biggest challenges?

“Test equipment, to be honest. And that still seems to be a bit of a challenge, although it’s getting better. Because of where we were in the development curve for NB1 and MTC, the availability and maturity of test equipment was a real challenge. So we had to work with test equipment vendors’ very early on with some of their beta software. Eventually things matured and it’s getting to a much better point now,” says Wong.

The RM1000 is available now, supplied to OEMs and module manufacturers developing
custom solutions, in an 8mm x 8mm 68 pad QFN package or a 3.5×3.2 mm WLCSP
package. The company offers customer support services, including reference
designs, for evaluation and module design.

Comment on this article below or via Twitter: @IoTNow_OR @jcIoTnow

 

FEATURED IoT STORIES

9 IoT applications that will change everything

Posted on: September 1, 2021

Whether you are a future-minded CEO, tech-driven CEO or IT leader, you’ve come across the term IoT before. It’s often used alongside superlatives regarding how it will revolutionize the way you work, play, and live. But is it just another buzzword, or is it the as-promised technological holy grail? The truth is that Internet of

Read more

Which IoT Platform 2021? IoT Now Enterprise Buyers’ Guide

Posted on: August 30, 2021

There are several different parts in a complete IoT solution, all of which must work together to get the result needed, write IoT Now Enterprise Buyers’ Guide – Which IoT Platform 2021? authors Robin Duke-Woolley, the CEO and Bill Ingle, a senior analyst, at Beecham Research. Figure 1 shows these parts and, although not all

Read more

CAT-M1 vs NB-IoT – examining the real differences

Posted on: June 21, 2021

As industry players look to provide the next generation of IoT connectivity, two different standards have emerged under release 13 of 3GPP – CAT-M1 and NB-IoT.

Read more

IoT and home automation: What does the future hold?

Posted on: June 10, 2020

Once a dream, iot home automation is slowly but steadily becoming a part of daily lives around the world. In fact, it is believed that the global market for smart home automation will reach $40 billion by 2020.

Read more
RECENT ARTICLES

Infineon and Rainforest Connection create real-time monitoring system to detect wildfires

Posted on: October 22, 2021

Munich and San Jose, California, 21 October, 2021 – Infineon Technologies AG a provider of semiconductors for mobility, energy efficiency and the IoT, announced a collaboration with Rainforest Connection (RFCx), a non-profit organisation that uses acoustic technology, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning to save the rainforests and monitor biodiversity.

Read more

Infineon simplifies secure IoT device-to-cloud authentication with CIRRENT Cloud ID service

Posted on: October 21, 2021

Munich, Germany. 21 October 2021 – Infineon Technologies AG launched CIRRENT Cloud ID, a service that automates cloud certificate provisioning and IoT device-to-cloud authentication. The easy-to-use service extends the chain of trust and makes tasks easier and more secure from chip-to-cloud, while lowering companies’ total cost of ownership. Cloud ID is ideal for cloud-connected product companies

Read more