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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Nordic Semi backs low power cellular standards for IoT

By Nick Flaherty

In a major boost to the future of cellular connection for the Internet of Things, one of the most innovative chip suppliers is backing the new LTE-M and LTE-NB standards.

Nordic Semiconductor is already a leading provider of ultra-low power wireless chips for stadnards such as Bluetooth with ten years of experience. It is developing a low power LTE technology for cellular IoT, recruiting an experienced group of cellular R&D engineers in Finland who were formerly employed by the Finnish arms of Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, and Broadcom.

“Looking almost two years back we spotted a unique opportunity: the emergence of low power LTE technologies and at the same time the recruitment opportunity of a pool of talented and experienced cellular engineers in Finland,” said Svein-Egil Nielsen, CTO of Nordic Semiconductor. “In wireless, LTE is about as complex and specialized as it gets. There is probably only a handful of teams in the world with the capability and track record to develop and deploy such a technology. We have one of those teams and as a company our objective is to shape the future of low power cellular IoT in the exactly the same way we did for ultra-low power wireless and Bluetooth low energy.”

Nordic expects to sample the first nRF91 Series solutions to selected lead customers second half of 2017, and it will be very interesting to see the design tradeoffs they make. Broad availability and production ramp will follow in 2018.

Low power cellular IoT is positioning itself to be widely adopted in numerous markets and applications including, for example, smart utility metering, asset and people (e.g. child) tracking, fleet management, buildings security and safety, remote maintenance, smart vending machines, retail, healthcare and medical monitoring, real-time traffic monitoring, wearables, in-door and out-door GPS navigation, smart home technology, automotive (for customized insurance based on actual driving data), and industrial and agricultural automation.

Nordic Semiconductor’s roadmap includes highly integrated chipsets and advanced software for the forthcoming 3GPP Release 13 LTE-M and NB-IoT cellular technologies. Highly optimized for power and size, the upcoming Nordic Semiconductor nRF91 Series is designed specifically to address the needs of emerging low power cellular IoT applications, including long battery life, low cost deployment and maintenance, scalability for potentially billions of devices, a miniaturized form-factor that can fit almost anywhere, and ubiquitous network coverage.

LTE-M and NB-IoT are specified by the 3GPP to provide low power, secure, reliable, future-proofed, open standard and interoperable cellular connectivity for cost, size, and power-constrained IoT applications. The two technologies are set to drive breadth and growth for the emerging cellular IoT market projected to surpass 1.5 billion connections by 2021. Nordic expects broad coverage for the technologies in the 2018-2019 timeframe, with initial coverage starting in 2017.

Complementing Nordic’s industry-leading product range and roadmap for short-range ULP wireless semiconductor technology, the expanded product roadmap for long-range, low power wireless is part of the company's strategy to target new high growth markets with its proven wireless connectivity and embedded processing technology, and extensive R&D expertise.

“We are very excited to unveil our roadmap for cellular IoT,” said Svenn-Tore Larsen, CEO of Nordic Semiconductor. “The combination of our ultra-low power wireless DNA and unique cellular expertise in Finland puts Nordic in a strong position to drive and fuel the market for low power cellular IoT. For us this roadmap is about taking Nordic Semiconductor as a company to the next level by providing scale for our technology, and on-going organizational and R&D investments.”

“We believe that the cellular IoT market is still in its infancy and that the new low power LTE technology variants will drive a massive growth curve in many ways similar to what Bluetooth low energy is doing for short-range wireless,” adds Thomas Embla Bonnerud, Director of Product Management with Nordic Semiconductor. “Some years down the road this market is going to look very, very different compared to how it looks today. That is what the Nordic Semiconductor nRF91 Series is all about: a new and different solution for a new and different market.”

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