ARM buys NextG-Com and Mistbase for NB-IoT expertise

ARM buys NextG-Com and Mistbase for NB-IoT expertise

Softbank expects one trillion ARM IoT chips in next 20 years
Softbank expects one trillion ARM IoT chips in next 20 years

UK-based chipmaker ARM has announced the acquisition of two companies specializing in NarrowBand-IoT (NB-IoT) technology, NextG-Com and Mistbase.

NB-IoT, a standard that was approved in June 2016 by mobile broadband standards body 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project), offers low-power and wide-area connectivity with the goal of connecting sensors, meters and devices at scale and over long ranges.

ARM is now looking to take a lead in this market, by combining its chip security technologies with specialist NB-IoT engineering expertise from its two recent acquisitions.

Mistbase is based in Lund, Sweden, and provides a complete NB-IoT physical layer implementation solution.

NextG-Com is based in Staines, UK and offers a complete Layer 2 and 3 software stack for NB-IoT.

Terms and conditions of the two deals were not revealed, but they are the first acquisitions that ARM has announced publicly since it was acquired itself in July by SoftBank for £24 billion ($30 bn). Cambridge-based ARM continues to operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Japanese company SoftBank.

Related: 3GPP standardises NB-IoT technology for rollout

Engineering expertise

Writing in a blog post on the acquisitions, ARM’s wireless business general manager Paul Williamson explained: “We are already working on ARM Cordio-N solutions to reduce the time to market for our partners’ NB-IoT standard compliant chips. In addition to the hardware and software expertise of the acquired companies, we are also investing in radio design that will offer complete NB-IoT chip solutions from application software to antenna. This will cut the complexity of adopting cellular IoT technology.”

NB-IoT is important, he added, because, “it is seen as the standard that will unlock long-range IoT connectivity at scale, as mobile operators only have to upgrade their existing LTE systems to make it work.

“The standard will be cost-efficient to adopt, it will allow data to be sent over hundreds of miles at ultra-low-power, and it opens up the chance to tie-in market-leading chip security technologies from ARM.”

According to Ken Rehbehn, an analyst at 451 Research, a key pillar of ARM’s strategy rests on embedded intelligence opportunities for the Internet of Things. “But ARM lacked radio expertise required for tight integration of new low power, wide area IoT capabilities entering the market,” he told Internet of Business.

“By acquiring its partner Mistbase as well as NextG-Com, ARM helps fill the gap and sets the stage for an ARM offer that helps its licensees move to market faster with IoT functionality addressing both local and wide area communications needs.”

Related: Softbank-owned ARM launches IoT device management platform

NB-IoT set for rapid growth

Already, NB-IoT looks set to be the fastest-growing LPWA [low power wide area] technology tracked by market research firm IHS Markit, observed analysts from the firm.

They forecast growth from 1 million connections this year to over 141 million connections by 2021, on the basis that it “addresses pent-up demand for an open standards-based solution that service providers can deploy widely at scale.”

For now, however, there’s a good deal of market fragmentation, with at least eight different LPWA technologies in use worldwide, according to a recent report by Aris Xylouris at research company Analysys Mason.

But the number of LPWA deployments continues to rise, with 85 commercial networks announced in 2016, compared to 29 in 2015.

Of these, 25 use NB-IoT, 25 use LoRa and 23 use Sigfox, with the remainder using other LPWA standards, including UNB Wireless, Ingenu, LTE-M, and Weightless.

Xylouris concludes: “The number of LPWA deployments increased significantly in 2016, and we can expect more announcements to be made before Mobile World Congress 2017. It is likely that the launch of the first real commercial deployment of an NB-IoT network will be among the announcements at MWC 2017.”

Related How will Vodafone’s NB-IoT network affect device manufacturers?