Technology stands still for no man. In fact, the adoption of new technologies continues to accelerate, and the cellular sector is no exception to that rule.
In the annals of cellular communications, first there was plain old cellular, which was pretty new and exciting when it first came out a few decades ago. Then we started hearing about this new thing called 2G, which took cellular communications digital, but only after much debate over which was the best air interface to take us into this brave new world. Logically, 3G came next, bringing us even faster connectivity to support our growing smartphone addictions. And, close on its heels, 4G LTE arrived – scaling up bandwidth and performance to support more users and rich media traffic like video.
But while LTE is most often associated with higher speeds, there are also variants of LTE optimized for lower-speed and more power- and cost-sensitive applications in the Internet of Things realm.
Cat-1 is the version of LTE for IoT that’s out there today. But Cat-M1 (formerly known as Cat-M), is what’s coming next. Cat-1 is serving as a great incremental LTE solution to address the Internet of Things, says Eran Eshed, co-founder and vice president of worldwide sales and marketing at Altair Semiconductor. But Cat-M1 and what follows, he adds, are considered the Holy Grail for the cellular IoT industry. That’s because these new standards offer significant enhancements to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as power consumption and coverage, while lowering the cellular module cost to single digit figures.
However, as with any technical transition, deciding when and how to migrate from Cat-1 to Cat-M1 can be a difficult choice to make. Is it better to stick with the mature technology that exists today and wait a bit for the new thing to mature? And, if you do wait, how long do you have to wait? Also, when you are finally ready to make the transition, what will that transition entail?
These are all important considerations.
Carrier announcements have indicated that Cat-M1 will be available beginning in the fourth quarter of 2016. While that may be the case, no one knows for sure whether modules and end devices will be available at a mass production level by that time, or whether this technology will be able to provide the expected coverage and performance within this timeframe, says Eshed. That uncertainty concerns some in the industry, who worry that a delay could hamper the momentum IoT has gained under Cat-1.
Eshed says this dynamic kind of reminds him of what happened during the transition from 3G to 4G, when some companies stuck with less efficient solutions out of concern that the new 4G technology wouldn’t provide the expected coverage.
Now, however, companies can have the best of both worlds with Altair’s FourGee-1210 chipset, which supports Cat-1 today and is software-upgradeable to Cat-M1. The FourGee-1210, Eshed says, is the only solution with this kind of functionality in a cost efficient manner.
Available in the third quarter of this year, the FourGee-1210 is completely compatible with Altair’s FourGee-1160 chipset, which is already in use by an array of module and device customers. That means any existing FourGee-1160 solutions can be seamlessly upgraded to Cat-M1 functionality, and without any changes to hardware.
Both the upcoming Altair FourGee-1210 chipset, and the existing FourGee-1160 solution, feature the same packaging/pin out designs, and the same software APIs. The addition of Cat-M1 functionality for both may be performed via a firmware over the air (FOTA) upgrade. That provides customers of these Altair solutions with a frictionless migration path to Cat-M1.
Altair technology addresses a wide variety of use cases including 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 space; 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, power-efficient, wireless two-way communications that are highly secure. That’s what Altair technology delivers.
For more information on Altair Semiconductor, its existing Cat-1 solution, and its upcoming Cat-M1 solution, visit www.altair-semi.com.
Edited by Ken Briodagh