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Microchip bolsters RF clout, adopts long-range technology

11 Aug 2014  | Ismini Scouras

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Microchip Technology Inc. is forging ahead with its efforts to bolster its RF expertise for the IoT market, having adopted Semtech Corp.'s long-range technology to develop products. Earlier, the PIC microcontroller vendor announced a $328.5 million deal to acquire Taiwan's ISSC Technologies, a fabless chip company that specialises in Bluetooth chips (see Microchip buys Taiwan-based Bluetooth chip maker).

Semtech, an analogue and mixed-signal IC maker based in Camarillo, California, supplies RF transceivers based on the LoRA RF platform, which enables long-range, low-power connectivity. Semtech claims that short-range technology requires too many repeaters to achieve wide coverage. It also has limited capacity in the network to connect a high volume of nodes, a key requirement in IoT deployments. The LoRA spread spectrum modulation scheme overcomes those hurdles.

According to IMS Research, the need for long-range RF connectivity is expected to be huge. By 2020, the number of web-connected devices is expected to reach 22 billion; more than 50 per cent of those applications are predicted to need long-range connectivity and multi-year battery operation.

Using the LoRa technology, Semtech's SX127x family achieves a range of more than 15Km (9 miles) in a suburban environment and 2Km to 5Km (3 miles) in a dense urban environment while operating under US, EU, Chinese and Japanese regulatory limits. Most deployed systems for metering, security or industrial automation are limited in range to 1km to 2km (less than 1.25 miles) in a suburban environment.

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Semtech long-range architecture for urban and rural IoT. Source: Semtech

"Microchip believes that Semtech's LoRa RF technology is a good choice when the design requires both an extremely long range and the lowest possible power consumption, for transmitting/receiving basic command-and-control and sensor-reading data," said Steve Caldwell, VP of Microchip's Wireless Products Division, in an email exchange with EE Times.

LoRA is a spread spectrum modulation scheme that uses wideband linear frequency modulated pulses. The frequency increases or decreases over a certain amount of time to encode information. LoRA modulation increases receiver sensitivity and creates a high tolerance to frequency misalignment between the receiver and transmitter, according to documents on Semtech's website.

Microchip already offers Bluetooth (Classic and Low Energy/Smart), Wi-Fi, 802.15.4 (Proprietary/MiWi and ZigBee), and Sub-GHz solutions for the other design needs that LoRa technology doesn't address, he added.

Caldwell wouldn't offer any more details about the LoRA solutions that the company is developing, but said that "they will be another natural extension of our PIC microcontrollers."

The LoRa technology-based products from Microchip will also target M2M, metering, security and industrial automation applications.

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