In the last sixteen years, ARM has built a stronghold of low power chips for smartphone, cars, and sensors. But now it wants to make connecting and updating wireless devices more flexible for customers.
The company has paid around $15 million for Simulity, a supplier of embedded operating systems and SIM cards for Internet of Things devices, according to an announcement last week from private equity firm Foresight, which owned the Gwynedd, Penn.-based business.
Like the tiny silicon strips that slide into phones, Simulity’s embedded SIM cards authorize that devices can access cellular networks. But unlike traditional SIM cards, they can be soldered directly into circuit boards that do everything from monitoring factory equipment and tracking shipping containers, and companies can update their network credentials over the air.
Simulity also offers standard software for conveying those wireless updates. It would be unfeasible to manually swap out the SIM cards in thousands or millions of devices with lifespans ranging from five years to twenty years. ARM plans to pair Simulity’s technology with its tiny microcontrollers, which are already darlings of the Internet of Things market.
Vincent Korstanje, vice president of marketing for ARM's systems and software group, said in an email that "in the next two decades traditional SIM technology cannot deliver the scale or flexibility required" to manage not only millions but billions of connected devices.
"OEMs, cellular network operators and IoT service providers know that to be able to rollout IoT devices at scale they need the flexibility to remotely manage the network credentials of devices after they have been deployed," Korstanje added. Simulity’s technology helps with that.
The deal also gives ARM thicker armor against digital intruders. In recent years, the Cambridge, U.K.-based firm has taken more responsibility for the embedded security that protects chips based on ARM’s blueprints, which are used in almost every smartphone in the world as well as tiny microcontrollers that send instructions to everything from windshield wipers to thermostats.
Since ARM’s founding in 1991, more than 100 billion chips based on the company’s designs have been sold. Masayoshi Son, chief executive of Softbank, which bought ARM last year for $32 billion, has harshly criticized the current state of ARM’s security. But he also believes that four out of every five chips sold in the next twenty years will process and transmit data about their surroundings using ARM chips.
ARM takes security seriously. In the last two years, ARM has hardwired security into its smallest crumb-sized chips, introduced a secure operating system, and debuted cloud software for remotely monitoring the firmware in devices. But the impact the company will have remains to be seen.
Simon Segars, ARM’s chief executive, recently said that the closest we have to a solution for embedded security is sending out regular remote updates to devices. It is the only way to stay ahead of hackers trying to break into any one of billions of chips inside traffic lights, power plants, and factory sensors.
The deal also moves ARM further into the business of low power connectivity. In February, it acquired two companies, Mistbase and NextG-Com, whose software stacks span the physical, second, and third layers of narrowband-IoT, which is based on 4G technology but only chews through a fraction of the power used to connect smartphones.