An estimated 6.4 billion connected things are expected to be in use this year, according to Gartner, and the Internet of Things is forecast to yield 20.8 billion endpoints by 2020. Given the growing reliance on the IoT, and the many endpoints in use at what are often remote locations, the organizations that leverage these devices want them to be as energy efficient as possible to ensure they are affordable, low maintenance, and have long lifecycles.
Altair Semiconductor makes all that possible today within the Cat-1 standard, says Eran Eshed, the company’s co-founder and vice president of marketing and business development.
Cat-1 does not offer any special power consumption features over the previous generation 3GPP standard, adds Eshed, but the future Cat-M1 and Cat-M2 will. Not content to wait for the arrival of these new standards, Altair Semiconductor has devised ways to reduce power consumption within its existing Cat-1 solution.
These Altair innovations will enable devices outfitted with the company’s Cat-1 technology to operate for up to a decade on two AA batteries – and in the process make cellular IoT solutions competitive in terms of power consumption with the low-power area networks that we’ve been hearing more about recently.
Power Saving Mode
IoT devices have two general types of operational modes, each of which has very different impacts on their power consumption, Eshed says. In one, the endpoint must be reachable by the network all of the time so it can react when needed. In the other, communications is initiated by the endpoint as opposed to the network. In this case the endpoint can go into sleep mode when not in use, and wake only when an external trigger or timer set at predetermined intervals prompts it to action.
Release 12, which the 3GPP launched in March of 2015, includes a feature called power saving mode that allows endpoints to go offline after checking in with the network for approval so the network knows not to attempt to contact the device during that idle time. Altair Semiconductor has introduced power saving mode in its Cat-1 solutions, says Eshed, noting that’s noteworthy because not all LTE chipset companies have done so. (Release 12, by the way, is not specific to Cat-1, but can work with any Cat iteration.)
But Altair Semiconductor didn’t stop there. In its move to make IoT LTE devices more power efficient sooner rather than later, the company also has implemented extended DRX within its Cat-1 chipset.
In IoT operational mode scenarios like those described earlier, in which endpoints can go into sleep mode and awaken at predetermined intervals to listen for the network, there’s long been a standard paging mechanism that allows for such alerts at intervals of up to 2.56 seconds. However, 2.56 seconds is a pretty short window of time, which effectively means that endpoints don’t have time to go into sleep mode.
3GPP recently addressed that with Release 13, which defined extended DRX. This new feature is like the paging that preceded it, but extended DRX allows for much longer intervals – which can be measured in minutes or even hours. Extended DRX dramatically improves consumption on chipsets that can support it, says Eshed, and Altair Semiconductor’s products do.
Sleep Mode Operation
While the above-noted items are power saving efforts defined within standards, and for which Altair Semiconductor is an early adopter, Eshed says the way its chipsets consume power during standby time is perhaps an even more important differentiator for the company and its customers.
“This is where we excel over any other competitor,” he says,
Altair Semiconductor’s sleep mode energy consumption is by far the lowest in the marketplace, according Eshed.
“We made sure we can go to a very, very low sleep mode operation – consuming a few microamps as opposed to milliamps,” he explains. “That floor is what will determine what average current draw on the battery will be, and thus what the battery life will be.”
Ready to Roll
All of these features are available today from Altair Semiconductor, emphasizes Eshed, who adds that the company has demonstrated these power-efficient features on multiple occasions, most recently with Ericsson and Sierra Wireless at Mobile World Congress.
There’s no need for companies that require the power-efficient capabilities promised for IoT to wait until 2017 or 2018 for new 3GPP releases or standards for these innovations, he reiterates. Altair Semiconductor’s Cat-1 technology enables IoT LTE endpoints to operate for up to a decade on two AA batteries – and they can get started with that today.
Edited by Ken Briodagh