Qualcomm’s new NB-IoT chipset boasts power efficiency

Power efficiency and battery life are a big deal in the IoT world. (Qualcomm)

Power efficiency is a top concern for IoT devices that must last for years in the field. Qualcomm Technologies says its new NB-IoT chipset for cellular connectivity requires less than one micro-amp (1uA) of sleep current. The new Qualcomm 212 LTE IoT Modem will be available in the second half of 2020.

Qualcomm says the modem supports a wide range of batteries. And it couples ultra-low cut-off voltage with provisions for adapting power usage according to varying source power levels. It supports end devices with power supply levels as low as 2.2 volts.

“The Qualcomm 212 LTE IoT Modem will help usher in a new era for a range of IoT applications around the globe, especially those requiring connectivity deep within buildings combined with low power use, like battery-powered IoT devices that need to operate for 15 years or longer in the field,” said Vieri Vanghi, VP of product management at Qualcomm Europe, in a statement.

The modem is targeted to original equipment manufacturers that are creating the next generation of low-power IoT devices. It uses NB-IoT spectrum on RF frequency bands spanning from 700 MHz to 2.1 GHz. NB-IoT networks operate in the guard band, essentially sitting alongside LTE networks.

Qualcomm’s modem is housed in a compact single-chip solution including modem baseband, application processor, memory, RF transceiver and power management units. It integrates an Arm Cortex M3 application processor.

In conjunction, Qualcomm also launched a software development kit for use with the IoT modem, designed to support developers in running custom software on the integrated applications processor.

“The expansion of low-power wide-area networks around the world is opening the door to massive IoT use cases and applications that weren’t possible or practical before,” said Cameron Coursey, VP of advanced solutions at AT&T, in a statement. “We look forward to validating the chipset for the AT&T network.”

RELATED: NTT DoCoMo shuts down NB-IoT service

In the U.S., T-Mobile was the first to market with its NB-IoT network, which went live in July 2018. Verizon lit up its nationwide NB-IoT network last year.

But Japan’s NTT DoCoMo recently announced it is terminating its NB-IoT service, which it started offering almost a year ago. The company cited economic circumstances due to the current business environment. NTT DoCoMo said its low-power Category 1 and LTE-M services will continue to be available.

Matt Hatton, founding partner at Transforma Insights, told FierceWireless that NB-IoT has had a few teething problems. What was advertised as a cheap and easy software upgrade to LTE networks has proven to be more expensive and painful than anticipated. But he added that realistically, there’s only one standards-based narrowband low power technology with the likelihood of being deployed everywhere, and that’s NB-IoT, which is what will form the basis of that capability within 5G.

Power efficiency

Power efficiency and battery life are a big deal in the IoT world. When companies have thousands of IoT sensors and other devices deployed, they want to minimize power costs, and they can’t be expected to constantly swap out batteries for legions of devices.

RELATED: Powercast, Ossia provide wireless charging for sensors

A few companies are starting to innovate power-through-the-air technology to power small IoT sensors for use cases in industrial settings. For example, Walmart has been testing Ossia’s wireless charging technology at distribution centers.