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Intel rolls out 3G chip for IoT

26 Aug 2014  | Jessica Lipsky

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Intel developed what it claims as the smallest 3G cellular modem with an integrated power amplifier. The chip fits into a 300mm2 footprint and targets the XMM 6255 at Internet of Things uses in areas such as healthcare monitors and advertising.

OEMs often turn to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy links for IoT applications first, given their relatively high bandwidth and low power consumption. "Wherever mobility, reliability, and security are important in combination, that's where cellular is better," Stefan Wolff, chief operating officer of R&D in Intel's Wireless Platform group, told EE Times.

The new 65nm CMOS modem supports both 3G and 2G connections. Wolff said an LTE modem would be a "logical next step" in Intel's IoT roadmap.

The modem supports downlink speeds up to 7.2Mbit/s—a number Wolff called "the sweet spot... I don't think [the relatively low] data rate is a real limitation," he said. The chip uses a single antenna. "For higher throughput, you need two antennas to receive and that adds complexity and cost," Wolff said.

Intel Iot chip

"The Internet of Things will not allow [vendors] to build well performing antennas for many reasons... antennas need volume," Wolff said. "We believe IoT [uses] will neither offer the volume for well-designed antennas nor will people have the capability to engineer and test these antennas," he added

Intel's antenna approach not only decreases the size of the modem but maximises network capacity and throughput by decreasing signal loss, he said.

Intel will support GPS and Wi-Fi links to the modem, said Will Strauss, president of market watcher Forward Concepts. Intel may be the only manufacturer to allow for multiple connectivity configurations on a small footprint, Strauss said.

"Wi-Fi of course is a much higher data rate but only good for 300ft, maybe, while with 3G you can communicate from here to China," Strauss told EE Times. "I think it's good thinking, being able to look at the technology you have and being able to serve a market that is growing. I applaud Intel for thinking small by thinking [about] better packaging to meet a market that is there," he said.

Intel did not release information on the modem's power specs or cost. The modem is currently shipping in modules from U-blox AG and Wolff said Intel has design wins with four other companies.

The modem has its heritage in the Infineon wireless group Intel acquired in 2010. In a separate move to expand its presence in networking, Intel recently acquired an ARM-based SoC from Avago.

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