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Test Protocols for the IoT

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

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By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

The Internet-of-Things (IoT) will require components that can sense the world, process and store data, and communicate autonomously within a secured environment. Consequently, IoT devices must incorporate sensors, wireless communication at Radio Frequencies (RF), logic, and embedded memory. Integrated circuit (IC) chips for IoT applications will have to be created at low cost in High Volume Manufacturing (HVM) lines, for which there are unique challenges with design and test. Presto Engineering’s founder and president, Michel Villemain, spoke with the Show Daily about how his company’s test services can accelerate the time-to-market and reduce risk in creating new IoT chip products.

“We started 10 years ago, and were differentiated on RF,” explained Villemain. “We now have a good view on what test costs are in production for different chip functionalities. We focus on specific segments of the industry that are not the traditional ‘drivers’ such as SoCs and large digital chips.” Since most IoT devices are expected to use Over The Air (OTA, a.k.a. “wireless”) links, Presto’s expertise in RF test helps create a low-cost solution for customers.

“We see some general trends in this area,” said Villemain. “The first one in IoT is there is a lot of activity in determining proper protocols for communications, as the industry moves from using short-range private area networks to low-power wide-area-networks with range beyond 300 feet. The second trend which is not technical, is that more and more non-semiconductor companies such as ‘system houses’ will be designing chips to reduce costs and increase security.

“The need for security has been reported as one of the main issues in peoples’ minds preventing deployment of the IoT. When security has to be hardware related and implemented in the chip, the only easy way to enable it is with test,” confided Villemain. “Remember that security is not binary. There is a return-on-investment decision based on how easy would it be to break something and how much would it cost to prevent that breakage. There is somewhat of a consensus that hardware-based solutions provide more security for data traveling over a link, so what we are trying to do is lower the cost of adding security at the hardware level.”

For the test of a very large and complex device, all of the digital instructions are generated by the design tools. However, for a primarily analog device the digital is not the core of the design and not the core expertise of the design team. The Figure shows the workflow used by Presto to methodically manage the establishment of rigorous engineering and production flows for IoT ICs.

test protocols

“Provisioning” is defined as the use of embedded Non-Volatile Memory (NVM) such as Flash within a chip to be able to customize the functionality. If you need to test Flash cells and bake, then program the Flash and bake again before final test it calls for up to three probe insertions, so the type of NVM chosen can alter the text protocol needed.

At end end of last month, Presto announced a multi-year supply agreement with NAGRA—a Kudelski Group company in secure digital TV access and management systems—to provide supply chain management and production services for several of NAGRA’s key products in the Pay TV market. “We are delighted that NAGRA has placed trust in Presto to be its production partner for volume products,” said Michel Villemain, CEO, Presto Engineering. “Leveraging team and expertise acquired from INSIDE Secure in 2015, this is a natural complement to our strategy of deploying an independent subcontract back-end manufacturing and supply chain service for the secure card industry and IoT markets.”