By Paula Bernier
Altair Semiconductor, a chipset company that’s been in business for a decade, offers LTE-only chipsets. This year the company aims to disrupt the M2M/IoT space with the introduction of an optimized LTE-only chipset.
The IoT Evolution Magazine recently spoke with Eran Eshed, co-founder, and vice president of marketing and business development, at Altair Semiconductor, to learn more about the company and get a preview of what it has in store.
How did Altair Semiconductor get started, and how has it evolved to what it is now?
Eshed: Altair was founded in 2005 with a mission of becoming a leader in high performance, low power 4G chipsets. While mobile WiMAX was the only mature 4G standard at the time, we architected our chipset with a line of sight to LTE, as we were expecting it to play a major role in 4G’s development. The novel architecture we had developed enabled us a smooth and relatively quick shift to LTE as 4G undercurrents started settling, and helped us introduce in 2009 the first commercial LTE chipset intended for end devices. Since then we have achieved many industry firsts and have managed to become the clear No. 1 single-mode LTE chipset supplier, in terms of unit shipments, number of customers, and global carrier footprint.
What are Altair’s key products today, and how are they being used?
Eshed: Our portfolio includes chipset platform solutions for a wide spectrum of devices, from personal computing devices such as tablets, notebooks and Chromebooks, through small form factor, battery operated consumer devices, such as action cameras, and all the way to very high performance gateway and CPE products. Some of the better known Altair-powered products that ship in the market today are a tablet by Verizon Wireless called Ellipsis 7 and two Chromebook products from HP and Asus. In addition, we are constantly increasing our M2M footprint through small and affordable LTE-only modules built by several customers.
Altair’s CAT-4 150mbps LTE chipset was recently certified by Verizon Wireless. Tell us about it.
Eshed: This is our second-generation LTE chipset. (We have been shipping our previous CAT-3 chipset since 2009!) Called FourGee-3800/6300, this chipset sets the industry benchmark for performance/cost and power consumption. Aside from its higher throughput support, we have integrated a powerful application and network CPU to facilitate customer application execution, VoLTE capabilities, and support for eMBMS and advanced LTE-A features. The chipset is already integrated in numerous devices and will ship in commercial products very soon.
How does Altair see itself fitting into the IoT/M2M ecosystem?
Eshed: LTE is perceived as a high-speed/power/cost cellular technology, not quite the first choice for M2M and IoT use cases. This perception is about to change as new variants of LTE, optimized for lower-speed and more power/cost-sensitive applications – LTE-MTC in 3GPP jargon, Machine Type Communications. As in many other cases, the smaller players – the ones who are fast to market, agile and aggressive – are spearheading these new technology introductions. Altair prides itself on playing a pivotal role in bringing LTE in data-centric devices (as opposed to smartphones) to where they are today – a premium feature transformed into a commodity – affordable and accessible. We aim to play a similar role in this new and emerging IoT space. Disruption is our raison d’être.
Many IoT endpoints don’t require the high speeds that today’s LTE networks deliver. Yet some of the largest cellular service providers are sun-setting their older, 2G networks. What does this mean for organizations implementing IoT?
Eshed: Looking at this paradigm from a single dimension – in this case speed – misses the point. Carriers to date have served tens of millions of M2M subscribers with 2G networks. In most cases these networks delivered on the need, in others, they didn’t, and more expensive 3G connections were put to use. Two things are now happening – the first one has to do with 4G being dramatically more spectrally efficient and better than 2G, so carriers simply cannot afford not to migrate. This is what sun-setting is all about, adapting to the changing techno-economic reality. The second one is the anticipated growth of IoT, which renders 2G almost irrelevant. LTE is the only means by which cellular carriers will get a seat at the IoT table. LTE is not a nice-to-have; for them, it is an absolute must.
If there’s just one thing readers need to know about Altair Semiconductor, what is that one thing?
Eshed: Altair is a challenger – we never assume something cannot be done. This kind of DNA is essential for small companies competing in big markets. Innovate or die is our motto.
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