Qualcomm on Monday unveiled its latest multimode chipset created for Internet of Things (IoT) applications using NB-IoT or LTE-M connectivity.
The 3GPP release 14-capable 9205 LTE modem features significant improvements compared to its predecessor the MDM9206, across key dimensions including footprint, power consumption, and cost.
In addition to Cat-M1 and NB-IoT modes, the chipset also supports 2G/E-GPRS connectivity where LTE IoT has not been deployed yet.
Qualcomm Europe’s VP of Product Management Vieri Vanghi told Wireless Week that with the 9205, the company intends to build on the “excellent success” of the 9206, which to date has 80 different licensees. Qualcomm can leverage that large customer base and market adoption to offer a platform that is similarly positioned product-wise but with substantial enhancements, according to Vanghi.
In terms of size, the 9205 chipset has a 50 percent smaller footprint. This was achieved through high-level integration, including memory and a complete RF front-end including power amplifiers and switches that come from third-party vendors, together with the transceiver. The RF transceiver now has extended bandwidth support from 450 MHz to 2.1 GHz. Notably, the BOM (bill of materials) cost too has been reduced by about half compared to the previous generation in part due to the smaller footprint, reduced amount of silicon and smaller packages.
Power consumption, which is important for battery-powered IoT devices that may need to work in the field for 10 years or more, has on average been reduced by up to 70 percent in idle mode.
Qualcomm was able to reduce the amount of current drawn out of the battery to perform a given task, thanks to improvements in both hardware architecture and software. One important dimension of the 9205 is the so-called “cut-off” voltage, in regards to which the new Qualcomm chipset is one of a kind, according to Vanghi.
“We re-architected all of the power management in such a way that the cut-off voltage is 2.4 volts. It’s the lowest cut-off voltage that exists today in the industry for this type of chipset,” Vanghi said. “So that means that not only do we consume less power, but we’re able to squeeze most of the power out of a variety of battery types and battery chemistry.”
Since the chipset uses Release 14 instead of Release 13, there are also improvements in bit rates for Cat-M1 and NB-IoT.
Security is another important feature for IoT, and Vanghi said Qualcomm is continually improving on security features. The 9205 LTE chipset has hardware-based security tools. It also has, for example, protections to prevent devices from being flushed with rogue software, Vanghi noted. He said the chipset has a mutable identity that is used to certify and validate loaded software, so that only legitimate software can make it onto the chipset. The same goes for file systems, with the product including provisions to ensure the file system is secure and can’t be tampered with.
The integrated Arm Cortex A7 applications processor avoids the need for an external microcontroller to improve cost-efficiency and device security, Qualcomm says.
Importantly, the 9205 LTE modem is backward compatible in terms of earlier generations of Qualcomm’s software APIs, so customers that have licenses for the 9206 chipset can leverage “all of the software assets they have developed on that platform and market that software on the 9205,” Vanghi said. He noted the backwards compatibility enables speedy migration from the previous generation LTE modem to the 9205.
“The innovations included in the Qualcomm 9205 LTE modem are critical to support many of the 6 billion IoT devices expected to use low-power, wide-area connectivity by 2026,” Vanghi said in a statement. “LTE IoT technologies are the foundation of how 5G will help connect the massive IoT, and we are making these technologies available to customers worldwide to help them build innovative solutions that can help transform industries and improve people’s lives.”
Potential applications include asset trackers, smart meters and sensors, health monitors, and wearable trackers. Additional features of the 9205 include geolocation, support for cloud services and accompanying developer tools.
Qualcomm has named three lead customers that the company is already working with – Gemalto, Quectel, and Telit – which are developing modules based on the new modem, with commercial devices expected to be released in the second quarter of 2019.