In the news

Feb 17, 2017

Altair debuts CAT-M1, NB1-based cellular IoT IC

Junko Yoshida – EE Times

Although Altair is late coming to the CAT-M1/NB1 market, it’s set to leapfrog the others with the new ALT1250.

Is this the year for service providers to take the plunge into cellular IoT networks? Cellular IoT chip suppliers certainly hope so.

In that optimistic spirit, Altair Semiconductor, now a Sony company, announced Wednesday (Feb. 15) a narrow-band CAT-M1 and NB1-based cellular IoT chip, dubbed ALT1250.

Although Altair is late coming to the CAT-M1/NB1 market compared to rivals such as Sequans (Paris, France) and Intel, it’s set to leapfrog the others with the new ALT1250, boasted Eran Eshed, Altair’s co-founder and vice president of worldwide sales and marketing. The ALT1250 is more advanced “in terms of cost, ease of integration and service provisioning,” he said in a phone interview with EE Times. “We believe our chip is at least a generation ahead of any other CAT-1/NB1 chips on the market today.”

Specifically, the ALT1250 is designed to make it easy for Altair customers “to transform the chip into a [cellular IoT] module,” he noted. Ninety per cent of the components in a cellular IoT module—such as RF, baseband, front-end components, power amplifiers, filters and switches—are already in the ALT1250. Module vendors won’t need to tune the RF tuner, for example, Eshed added. The only chips that remain external to ALT1250 are “a small flash memory, a bunch of clocks and a few passive components,” he noted.

Simon Stanley, principal consultant at Earlswood Marketing Limited, told EE Times, “Key requirements for the cellular-based IoT market to take off are good coverage, and low component costs and attractive connectivity charges.”

Certainly, ALT1250’s lower component counts and lower power, and the integration of a GPS receiver, can help, said Stanley. But beyond Eshed’s claims, “I think the wider importance of the Altair announcement is the expected availability of different solutions,” he noted. Chips are coming from Sequans, Altair and Intel, who are all chasing this market, he added. “This gives IoT solution developers and operators the confidence to roll out services and expand the IoT market.”

Just like Wi-Fi

Since early February, 2016 when Altair was acquired by Sony, the team has worked patiently to completely redefine cellular IoT chip solutions. “We took a whiteboard approach. We knew it would take time for operators to migrate from 2G to LTE networks” for machine-to-machine communication, he said.

Altair established a priority to make it painless for service operators to embrace cellular IoT, by lowering cost, increasing security and simplifying the module design. An easier-to-integrate CAT-1/NB1 solution allows operators to “treat it as though it’s Wi-Fi,” he said. “Obviously, we are not there yet, but we are getting closer.”

Why integrate GPS?

Now that Altair is part of Sony’s semiconductor operation, it’s adding a new wrinkle to its CAT-1/NB1 chip: integration of a GPS receiver.

The integrated GPS suddenly makes the cellular IoT chip more amenable to getting designed into a variety of IoT applications, Altair believes. Such applications range from tracking kids, pets and assets to smart meters and figuring out where any given device is, Eshed explained. “An endless number of applications benefit from the GPS integration.”

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