The smartphone market may be some way off ditching 3G fallback, but LTE chipmaker Sequans has found there's more immediate interest in its single-mode modules within the Internet of Things (IoT) -- and it's ready to give these connected devices a voice of their own, too.
The 4G chipmaker announced Tuesday a partnership with Ecrio Inc. , which makes real-time LTE communications client software, to bring voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) and SMS to Sequans Communications chipsets designed for the IoT.
What kind of non-smartphone IoT devices actually need a voice, you my ask? Sequans CEO Georges Karam says there are potentially a lot, and that customers like Verizon Wireless are keen to let them be heard. A home security system, for example, could benefit from enabling voice over the LTE home gateway. Or, to achieve the true Dick Tracy ideal, consumers will have to be able to speak directly to their smart watch rather than link it to a smartphone. (See Verizon Wireless Certifies Sequans LTE Chip and CTIA: Verizon Pushes for Single-Mode LTE.)
Karam says that VoLTE is available via a software upgrade to any of its LTE-only chips through its partnership with Ecrio. The 4G-voice technology is not, however, the main selling point of an LTE-only chip for IoT -- at least not yet. Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications in general has been thought of as a 2G or 3G function, primarily because of the expense of adding LTE support for devices that don't necessarily need the speeds. But falling chipset prices that don't sacrifice speed or processing power are opening the door for LTE-only chipset suppliers like Sequans and single-mode competitor Altair Semiconductor . (See Does M2M Need LTE?)
At last week's Consumer Electronics Show, Sequans unveiled its Calliope platform, made up of category-1 LTE chipsets designed to be cheaper by not including faster speeds than necessary. The chips can achieve speeds of 10 Mbit/s downlink and are enabled by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) 's release 9 LTE standards. This comes as a low-end addition to Sequans portfolio, which also includes Category-4 chips for 150 Mbit/s downlink up to Cat-9 for 450 Mbit/s. Karam says the cat-1 chips are comparable in price to entry-level 3G chips at around $15.
"For all applications for M2M and IoT, there is no need for 300 Mbit/s and so on, but there is a need for low power consumption, size and form factor and for a lower cost structure around LTE," Karam explains.
Later this year or next as the 3GPP's release 10 standards are rectified, Karam says to expect Cat-0 chips that are comparable to 2G costs and have 1Mbit/s speeds, leaving little reason to shy away from LTE for M2M any longer. (See Verizon Begins 3G Refarming to Add LTE Capacity.)
"We are making this platform much farther optimized in terms of power consumption and deep coverage," Karam explains, adding it will compete with 2G pricing of $6 to $7 and hold a battery charge for a month. "This is an area of development in the 3GPP/4G world that is very interesting, and Sequans is well positioned to drive this angle."
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading