Ultra-Low Power Chipsets for NB-IoT Networks

Article By : Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio

Sony Semiconductor highlighted the importance of providing ultra-low power chipsets to keep devices connected to today’s LTE networks and ready for 5G IoT...

As IoT expands to include all types of connected “things”, many companies are providing several low power and connectivity chips to support the millions of devices. Sony Semiconductor Israel (formerly Altair Semiconductor), is a provider of cellular IoT chipsets. In an interview with EE Times Europe, Nohik Semel, CEO  of Sony Semiconductor Israel, highlighted the importance of providing ultra-low power chipsets to keep devices connected to today’s LTE networks and ready for 5G IoT.

In recent years, much attention has been focused on the Internet of Things (IoT), which is a whole range of commercial and industrial devices interconnected through the wireless (and wired) network. The advent of these devices poses a serious challenge in terms of battery life, data security and the corresponding batteries that need to be purchased, maintained and disposed; the energy harvesting technique presents a simple solution to easily and economically power low-power embedded devices (SoC) while using clean energy.

Nohik Semel_Altair CEO
Sony Semiconductor Israel CEO Nohik Semel

“Integration of power management into the basement has two basic advantages, but also some challenges,” Semel said. “The big advantages are that we control the entire bill of material and can reduce the system’s price. Second, we have very tight control over the power management states. However, when the design is into the basement, one disadvantage is that it forces us to develop the power management using the same silicon process as the entire SoC, which leads to some inefficiencies. Overall, though we believe it is a much better solution.”

Power management ICs designed for energy harvesting, as well as low-power MCUs, will contribute to the growth of the Internet of Things.

Power management

To get the best power consumption, the system design has to be optimal. “On the silicon side, they are built-in mechanisms, not just the power management, also other mechanisms that are always on and others that allow the system to go in and out efficiently into different modes of operation,” Semel said.

There is a balance between the total power consumption and the standby and active time. “You need the best algorithms to be able to shut down the circuits and software elements, for example, as soon as possible,” Semel said. “That is a critical point in optimizing the total power consumption of the system.”

The added value is an optimal control, thus enabling greater comfort, greater energy efficiency, cost reduction, etc. It adds intelligence to existing devices and the subsequent deployment of new devices throughout the environment. One of the many challenges for designers is assessing the energy factor, estimating the energy required and designing the corresponding power configuration.

Energy harvesting technologies can help; they use power generation elements such as solar cells, RF transducers, piezoelectric and thermoelectric elements to convert light and vibration.

Security and 5G

Component integration also brings up security aspects. Within an SoC, we can find a random number generator as well as a cryptographic or encryption engine.

We decided a few years ago to integrate a complete isolated type of hardware, which we call secure integrated element. Its functions is equivalent to a standalone SIM card, as well as a secure element for application credentials.”

Designed for cellular IoT applications from the ground up, the ALT1250 from Sony’s Altair is engineered for battery operated devices and, thanks to its small size, it can fit in a large variety of products. This full solution, 5G ready, Dual-Mode CAT-M & NB-IoT chipset with 2G fallback is built to evolve along with the IoT service and cellular network. Built-in security features and integrated SIM (iSIM) ensure a reliable IoT service throughout your device’s lifetime.

Sony Alt1250
ALT1250 block diagram

“When we refer to 5G, in the case of IoT, we are referring to the massive deployment of IoT sensors. We see a couple of trends in the industry. First, there is a need for a very strong security infrastructure within the chip, as well as within the software. However, there are also a couple of ways to manage the system layer. You could do an end security device to the cloud, deploy a private network, and then protect the entire network, and then nobody has access to the network. Alternatively, you could use some type of private network on top of some very strong security covering the connection between the device and the cloud, which you might do for smart cities or smart metering applications.”

The pandemic directed remote monitoring towards a profound acceleration. Smart metering and control activities in transport and logistics have accelerated the adoption of new solutions that could have good data security and good power management.

To give some examples, in the power generation and distribution sector, smart metering can play an essential role in controlling power outages and optimizing networks. The water sector can be useful in improving the control of leaks in aqueducts, while in the gas supply industry, it helps create new distribution methods that prioritize and improve users’ safety.

Sony claimed its Altair integrated cellular IoT chipsets meet these long-term demands to ensure sustained connectivity, providing secure two-way communication between the meter and the central system with extended battery life of 10+ years.

The availability of ad hoc cellular communication solutions ensures faster development times and facilitates the creation of innovative solutions for the metrology market. New technologies such as LTE Cat 1, Cat M1 and NB-IoT promise very interesting developments by fostering the evolution from simple smart metering to an era of wireless connectivity between multiple new types of smart IoT sensors, offering the opportunity to experiment with new business models rapidly.

This article was originally published on EE Times Europe.

Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio holds a Ph.D. in Physics and is a telecommunication engineer and journalist. He has worked on various international projects in the field of gravitational wave research. He collaborates with research institutions to design data acquisition and control systems for space applications. He is the author of several books published by Springer, as well as numerous scientific and technical publications on electronics design.

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