Q. What kinds of applications require a high-performance SoC, and what applications would be better off a lower-performance SoC to achieve pricing targets?
A. The ideal application for a high-performance SoC is a high-volume platform. If the platform needs to be leveraged across multiple regions, that’s even better because firmwar changes may be all that is needed. Lower-volume applications probably do better with performance building blocks or limited-function SoCs. If the region you are targeting has not selected a communication protocol, then it is probably safer to pick the building blocks.
Q. How are the current smart grid setups made secure? How can design engineers improve upon the security features when using the new SoCs?
A. There are a variety of approaches in smart meter security today. The most common is tamper protection on the meter, followed by AES-128 encryption on the data being communicated to and from the meters. In this type of configuration there are still gaps, such as the data path from the metrology to the communication hardware. If those lines can be sniffed or modified, then security has been breached.
Our recommendation is to secure the life-cycle of the product. Purchase through a trusted supply channel. Ensure authentication in the manufacturing process. This can be done with integrated or discrete products. Ensure authentication during the installation process as well. Finally, close gaps on the meter itself. For the example above, either select an integrated solution or bury the lines in the PCB and secure them separately, prior to routing to the communication module.
These solutions are much more difficult than this discussion warrants, but security is absolutely critical to our energy infrastructure and we need to build it into these systems, rather than patch it up later. That is definitely the best approach.