Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are common in battery-powered sensor devices, but Qualcomm wants to also make LTE a common feature in such devices.
Qualcomm makes some of the most advanced modems for mobile devices, but the company is now tuning them for Internet of Things devices by lowering power consumption and improving performance.
The latest MDM9207-1 modem chipset, announced last year, is now available from the chip-maker. It is part of the MDM9x07 chipset family, for which Qualcomm has secured 100 design wins, although some of those products may not ultimately ship.
As we know from smartphones, LTE can drain battery life. The fast data transfers encourage the use of video services, online games, and apps, and they take a toll on the battery.
But the advantage of LTE is it can extend the communications range of devices. Right now, most IoT devices are limited to communication within the range of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
The new modem is one of Qualcomm's first cellular chipsets dedicated to IoT devices running on batteries, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.
Qualcomm is designing its IoT modems to support many LTE standards around the world, which is a challenge it faces, McGregor said. Countries like China support different LTE standards than the ones used in the U.S. and Europe.
Over time, Qualcomm will integrate the modem into a single chip, much like it has done with its smartphone chips, he said.
"Eventually, we're going to see chips that have the modems, sensors and the microcontrollers integrated into one package," McGregor said.
The company claims the MDM9207-1 modem offers up to 10 years of battery life on two AA batteries and download speeds up to 10Mbps (bits per second). The chipset will be used in smart lights, industrial equipment, smart energy meters, medical devices, and asset tracking systems.
The chipset has an ARM Cortex-A7 application processor. The MDM-9207-1 supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, and GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System). Unique features such as end-to-end security and high reliability are offered for industrial IoT devices and machine-to-machine communications over LTE, the company said.
Companies making connectivity or IoT products will work with Qualcomm to integrate the LTE technology. Some partners are ZTE and Sierra Wireless.
Carriers are also preparing to use IoT devices on networks. AT&T is planning to deploy a Cat-M network specifically for IoT that could be used in data transfers between commercial IoT devices and wearables. Verizon is also working on products to support release 13 of the 3GPP LTE standard, which is used for low-bandwidth transfers.
Qualcomm's MDM9206 modem chipset, also announced last year, is designed to support the standard and could be available in devices in early 2017.