Raspberry Pi gets LTE support with add-on chip

Raspberry Pi (raspberry pi.org)
Raspberry Pi 2 (Image: raspberrypi.org)

In a first-of-its-kind trial, Altair Semiconductor demonstrated how its ALT1160 Cat-1 chipset can provide LTE connectivity for Raspberry Pi 3, providing another option besides Wi-Fi for Raspberry Pi connectivity.

The trial was conducted in Altair’s offices in Israel over a live network, according to Eran Eshed, Altair co-founder and VP of worldwide sales and marketing, in an email correspondence with FierceWirelessTech.

Since Wi-Fi networks have a limited geographic range, the addition of Altair’s LTE chipset enables wider, more flexible coverage across the country. The solution will enable users to quickly browse the internet and stream high-definition video from anywhere, in addition to using other applications such as home automation, robots or remote surveillance cameras with LTE access.

Originally developed as an affordable, credit-card sized computer for students to learn programming, Raspberry Pi is now being adopted by the wider market due to its flexibility and low cost. Connecting Altair’s LTE modem to Raspberry Pi will allow users to access cellular WAN connectivity remotely, in addition to the more traditional Wi-Fi or wired connections.

Eben Upton, founder of Raspberry Pi, told PC World that adding LTE capability is also an enabler for IoT applications. For example, users will be able to use Raspberry Pi to remotely control industrial IoT equipment. But there is no plan right now to integrate LTE directly into Raspberry Pi, Upton told the publication, so users will have to buy third-party modems like Altair’s LTE chipset and attach them to the board.

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“For cost and engineering reasons there is no current plan to integrate LTE functionality into the core product itself,” Upton told PC World.

Altair already has Cat-1 customers with commercial products in the launch/deployment stage in the U.S., Japan and Korea, Eshed points out, and it’s now in the midst of trials in the U.S. and other markets in Asia for its LTE Cat-M chipset. AT&T in October said it had switched on North America’s first LTE-M enabled commercial site at AT&T Labs in San Ramon, California, and plans to make the technology widely available across its commercial network throughout 2017.

Eshed said that LTE Cat-1 supports rates of up to 10 Mbps in the downlink and 5 Mbps in the uplink, with a wide range of applications and use cases that can benefit from such a link, from low bandwidth sensor applications all the way to video. “What’s unique about our chipset is the extremely low power it draws from the battery, which enables products to operate for 10 years and more without having to replace or recharge the battery,” he said.