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Jun 08, 2015

The Wait Is Over: Altair Brings Affordable, Low Power, Robust LTE Connectivity to IoT

IOT Evolution

By Paula Bernier

It has been clear for some time that a low-cost, high-performance connectivity option for the Internet of Things is on the horizon. According to Altair Semiconductor, that time is now.

Altair has come out with LTE-only chipsets that are a better match for a variety of business and consumer IoT applications than any other available long-range connectivity options, says Eran Eshed, co-founder and vice president of marketing and business development.

There are two basic types of long-range wireless technology today, Eshed notes, proprietary technologies and cellular. Proprietary technology like SIGFOX addresses IoT with low-cost, low-power connectivity, Eshed says, but that comes at the expense of robust solutions. SIGFOX is very low performance enabling transmission of up to 4 messages of 8 bytes payload to each device per day at very low speeds, he says. It also lacks a robust ecosystem, runs on unlicensed spectrum so is susceptible to interference, and is not secure, compared to cellular technology.

Some proprietary solutions also don’t really provide two-way functionality, he adds, which means it is not possible to do remote management and upgrade IoT firmware to devices in the field. That translates into expensive truck rolls.

Even if they do have two-way communications functionality, however, some proprietary technologies are so low performance that they don’t enable organizations to make needed changes – like shutting down a valve – to remote devices in real time. Having such real-time control can be very important to help an organization save money or even save lives, as in the case of eHealth applications.

Then there’s cellular. The bulk of IoT connections today are on 2G networks, although some are migrating to 3G. Although 70 percent of IoT links are 2G-based, cellular carriers are sunsetting these older networks so they can focus their resources on new 4G LTE networks.

“Even very large European carriers with successful 2G M2M businesses that don’t have near as good LTE coverage as U.S. carriers are unhappy taking 2G customers for this market and are looking for alternatives,” Eshed says.

The problem is that spending $100 per module per IoT device for 150mbps speeds doesn’t make sense, says Eshed. That’s why Altair built from scratch a robust and secure LTE-only chipset solution that costs less than what a 3G module sells for today.

“No one else in the industry has a true Cat-1 or Cat-0 LTE chipset,” says Eshed. “And by trying to retrofit higher category chips, others are losing the efficiency that is so central to what IoT-optimized cellular is all about.”

Altair modules are both affordable and feature-rich, and they were designed from scratch with specific IoT use cases in mind. The system-level security features available in the new Altair modules are above and beyond those detailed in the LTE specifications. Altair also offers a more comprehensive level of power management than is defined in LTE Category 0 to allow for maximum sleep time and to allow for wake time exactly when it’s needed. That allows IoT applications – such as smart metering – based on Altair technology to run for up to 10 years on a single battery.

Business use cases Altair addresses with its new modules include Industrial Internet applications involving data collection from, and control of, devices like generators, HVAC devices, and surveillance cameras; M2M commerce applications, including automatic teller machines, point of sale terminals, and vending machines; smart metering for electricity, gas, and water in the utilities industry; smart city applications including digital signage, parking meters, parking space management, and traffic light control; and vehicle telematics, including telemetry from the car, stolen vehicle recovery, and usage-based insurance. What all these applications have in common is a need for affordable, powerefficient, wireless two-way communications that are highly secure.

Altair’s new LTE-only chipsets also are ideal for IoT applications including people and pet trackers, smart home and consumer security systems, and wearable devices – all of which rely on cloud connectivity and for which wireless is either the only or best option, Eshed says. Although many homes today rely on a combination of in-home Wi-Fi and wireline broadband, Eshed notes that Wi-Fi networks are not very secure and that wireline connections can be cut.

“We believe you can bypass all those issues by connecting to the device directly with a secure, managed high-quality link that also supports video,” he says. “Altair’s LTE can provide that, and allow for that affordably.”

Altair’s new chipsets are also expected to have a profound impact on wearable devices, for which they can keep power consumption and footprint low.

“The whole user experience of having to charge a smartwatch would be pretty frustrating if I had to charge it once or more each day,” says Eshed. “Devices that leverage Altair chipsets will be able to operate for days, instead of hours, without recharging.”

The company’s low power consumption requirements also mean devices can be smaller.

“What we’re offering,” says Eshed, “is a very thin modem that provides everything you need, and not a thing more.”

As a result, says Eshed, solutions incorporating LTE for IoT and M2M can be implemented today.

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