Connect the Dots: MWC 2017 Shows Platform Agnosticism is Connectivity’s Future

Create: 02/24/2017 - 17:58

It may be that 2017 is the year that cellular-based connectivity becomes a real option for IoT solution providers that have to date been enamored by proprietary options such as Sigfox and LoRa for long-range, wide-area sensing.

The lead up to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona has seen a lot of activity in many areas, but the show’s emphasis on IoT and 5G, has created a buzz around those two topics, with a host of pre-event announcements, particularly with respect to NarrowBand-IoT (NB-IoT).

To date, low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN) IoT connectivity needs – for everything from parking meters to agricultural drones – have been addressed by proprietary standards such as Sigfox and LoRa. Their hardware and communications protocols have been tailored to achieve the classic battery life target of 10 years, depending on the usage model in terms of duty cycle, range and data loads. Where Wi-Fi tops out at 300 meters, ranges of up to 50 km are possible with Sigfox or LoRa.

While Sigfox and LoRa have been deploying globally, NB-IoT was formally announced mid-2016, so it is only now gathering steam. Operators like Vodaphone, AT&T and Verizon have shown strong interest, resulting in hardware from both established semiconductor vendors and newcomers alike. In the lead-up to Mobile World Congress 2017, for example, CommSolid, a startup out of Germany, announced the CSN130, a slice of semiconductor intellectual property (IP) that can be embedded into NB-IoT systems-on-chip (SoCs). These can be used to develop devices for NB-IoT networks that are compliant with the 3GPP Release 13 NB-IoT standard (Cat-NB1, NB-IoT).

With its mission of “Enabling Massive IoT,” CommSolid is intent on “connecting.amazing.things,” but to do that it needs to be integrated into the latest semiconductors, for which IoT solutions providers already have many options to choose from. Sequans, u-blox, Altair and Qualcomm have ICs or modules for NB-IoT.

Intel has been advocating for NB-IoT since 2015, and has its own Intel® XMM™ 7115 NB-IoT modem that it demonstrated with Ericsson and Vodaphone. It also has the Intel XMM 7315 modem that combines an LTE modem and application processor on a single chip. This chip supports both the LTE Category M and NB-IOT standards.

CommSolid chose to use Tensilica IP from Cadence, a semiconductor design-tool and IP provider. For providers of IoT solutions, this is tricky, as opting for an IC with CommSolid’s IP means they might be competing against solutions that already have a large ecosystem of software and hardware support, from Intel and others. Almost all of these will be at Mobile World Congress showing their solutions.

In the meantime, Sigfox is moving forward fast. Just this week it partnered with STMicroelectronics to implement its STSAFE-A1SX secure element (SE). Security, as we mentioned recently, is often overlooked, though it weighs heavily on the minds of solution providers that need to guarantee it for their customers.

With SE, Sigfox gets Common Criteria EAL5+ certified technology to ensure data integrity and confidentiality to and from a sensing node. STSAFE-A1SX is a small IC that connects to a sensing node’s controller IC (microcontroller) over an I2C interface. The ICs are given unique device IDs and keys using ST’s own secure-personalization center. This provisioning feature allows secure plug-and-play of devices with Sigfox’s network.

Flying in the face of security is the need for quick deployment of IoT devices, and to that end, Intel will be showcasing its Intel® LTE IoT Quick Deployment (Intel® LIQD) Program, with AT&T as the first carrier. The goal is to arm select OEMs and carriers with solutions that will allow them to deliver smart and connected devices that they can deploy in weeks instead of months. The first OEM partner is Sonim, with its XPi device.

5G Rising

The IoT and 5G are so intertwined that discussing one without the other is difficult, even though 5G itself is far from being settled as a standard. Suffice to say for now that its data rates, low latencies, high user densities and interoperability will change everything.

Intel XMM 7560 chip

Intel will use Mobile World Congress 2017 to showcase a range of wireless an edge connectivity solutions, including its latest LTE solution, the Intel® XMM 7560® modem. (Source: Intel Corp.)

In the meantime, Intel will use Mobile World Congress 2017 to launch a portfolio of products, including edge solutions such as the Intel® Ethernet Adapter XXV710 that supports 25 Gigabit Ethernet, and the Intel Atom® processor C3000 product family for network edge device vendors. Underscoring security, the latter includes Intel® QuickAssist technology for up to 20 Gbits/s crypto and compression acceleration.

For LTE, it will be unveiling the Intel® XMM 7560® modem, the first to be made in the company’s 14-nm process and which supports LTE Advanced Pro for downlink rates of over 1 Gbit/s and uplinks of up to 225 Mbits/s. One of the big features of 5G will be support of carrier aggregation, where multiple bands can be pulled together for higher data rates, but also to help deal with variations in global spectrum allocation. The XMM 7560 supports up to 35 LTE bands.

Mobile World Congress used to focus on handsets, but the weaving line of data connectivity crosses all platforms. The solution providers that best align with the new paradigm of secure, platform-agnostic, contiguous, connected solutions are the ones that will be best prepared to meet customer needs going forward.

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Patrick Mannion
Patrick Mannion is an independent writer and content consultant who has been working in, studying, and writing about engineering and technology for over 25 years.

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