In the news
Feb 28, 2016

Altair Semiconductor: On the Sony acquisition and sustainable IoT

By James Bourne

MWC It is safe to say that the critical buzz around chip and LTE technology provider Altair Semiconductor has rarely been higher. Three weeks after the news broke that Altair was to be acquired by Sony for upwards of $212m (£148m), Eran Eshed, co-founder and VP marketing at Altair, sees it as the “ultimate validation” of Altair’s 10 year vision.

“It’s not just the value of an acquisition,” he tells IoT Tech News. “You can probably imagine that these integration processes are complex and require a lot of energy from the acquiring company and from us, of course. It’s definitely a commitment that Sony is making to this market, it’s a recognition of the fact that IoT without connectivity doesn’t fly.”

For the vast majority of the company’s history since it was founded in 2005, their strategic play was around broadband, but only in the past few years has IoT become a key focus. Yet Eshed argues that even after the Sony acquisition goes through – where Altair will become part of Sony’s semiconductor division which will be spun off in April – the broadband piece will still be important. “Quite honestly, most of our revenues come from that,” Eshed says. “These M2M markets are somewhat slower.”

In terms of IoT, the key is around the CAT-1 chipset standard, which features in the news Altair has released at the show. The company has demonstrated to visitors at the Ericsson stand how its FourGee-1160 CAT-1 LTE chipset provides communication, and up to 10 years of battery life, for the latter’s water monitoring project, based on the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper organisation in the US.

For such projects to work, the focus is on making the Internet of Things sustainable – an issue which Eshed regards as vital. “I think it’s very important,” he says. “There are use cases that I call a solution looking for a problem – if you ask me for example, all the smartwatches you see here [are] a solution looking for a problem. I don’t see how it adds value. In this case, the case of renewable energy, you can see the dollars.”

Altair is involved in a variety of projects for this purpose, from gas meters which require the ability to be shut in five seconds if a leak is detected, to solar panels and irrigation systems which can be automatically adjusted based on the weather conditions. This is just one of many examples of the potential of the industrial Internet of Things in action, but Altair looks at its low power, low size, and competitive pricing as a way forward.

“To me it’s much more of an industrial internet play than it is consumer,” says Eshed. “The consumer side is sexy and nice, but the volume, the revenue potential in the enterprise and the industrial segments, [it’s] orders of magnitude.”

One of the recurring themes when speaking to IoT players at this year’s show was how operators have finally woken up to the issues of standards and moved, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming, into a more modern outlook, with the help of SIGFOX and the LoRa Alliance among others.

“We were walking in the desert for two years and nobody listened,” admits Eshed. “We said with CAT-1, actually, we can get pretty significant battery life out of that product. From a cost perspective, we can’t do $5 but we can do $15, which is not GSM but it’s on par with 3G and in some cases better than CDMA (code division multiple access).”

All of which leads to a pretty hot value proposition as far as Sony was concerned. “They could have bought other companies…but I think they’ve done significant technical due diligence and business due diligence,” says Eshed.

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