New Qualcomm chip claims low power dual band WiFi for IoT

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Qualcomm Technologies has announced a new WiFi product for supporting the development of connected devices in the IoT, unveiled at the Computex 2016 show in Taiwan this week. The QCA4012 chip, an extension of its QCA401x connectivity offering, says it brings dual band, low power WiFi to support energy efficient applications.

We should point out straight away that the suggestion that the new chip provides low power WiFi is somewhat misleading – WiFi works in a designated power envelope so if it was working at a lower power it simply would not travel anywhere. So what we believe Qualcomm means is that the micro-control unit (MCU) is the low power part of the product, and that this is battery powered as opposed to mains.

Unfortunately, Qualcomm has not provided a datasheet anywhere on its website so we are currently awaiting a response to clarify some points.

Qualcomm says the dual band WiFi capability of QCA4012 complements the existing single band QCA4010, which makes the new product suited for uses in interference-sensitive environments – which could span locations such as hospitals and airports.

The exact use cases for the new chip have not been made entirely clear, but the US chip giant has also announced the new software will include support for different software frameworks – Apple’s HomeKit, Google’s Weave, and the AllSeen Alliance’s AllJoyn, as well as new cloud providers. This suggests the chip will be used for applications such as lightbulbs within the smart home, and not in the more power hungry hubs as with its Atheros QCA4002 WiFi chipset. Interoperability is major factor for developing strong IoT ecosystems – so it’s positive when giant players such as Qualcomm add more choices for developers to use.

However, WiFi alone is not enough to power a smart home, and other more power-efficient protocols are required – which Qualcomm is well aware of as it completed the $2.4 billion acquisition of Bluetooth specialist CSR in August 2015. Also, in May last year, Qualcomm introduced a new chip (the QCA4531) that promises to act as a bridging device between WiFi and other radio protocols – which should position AllJoyn at the head of the smart home, if it can get these chips into hubs.

The detailed features of the QCA4012 include full MCU capability with 1.5 Mb on-chip RAM for future upgrades and bug fixes. It says enhanced security is covered by OTA security software updates, anti-rollback, one-time-programmable (OTP) memory, and on-chip crypto engine for application-level security. It also includes interfaces UART, HS-UART, I2C, I2S, up to 42 GPIOs, PWMs, ADCs, SPI/SDIO to directly interconnect to sensors, actuators, display, lighting and audio components.

Additionally, Qualcomm is offering a set of tools to developers based on the QCA401x SDK – which it says cloud service providers such as Ayla, Exosite and IOTA Labs have used to develop cloud agents, APIs, and other tools which support integration with IoT clouds.

ODMs such as US-based Silex are already developing hardware platforms based on QCA4012, according to Qualcomm, and Silex, Lite-on, WNC and WISOL will also continue to work with the single band QCA4010.

“Silex is very excited about launching the SX-ULPGN, a QCA401x based cost-effective, ultra-low power MCU + WiFi pre-certified (FCC/IC/CE) module ideal for IoT applications. Using SX-ULPGN’s hostless mode, device manufacturers can develop complete IoT/IoE solutions with WiFi connectivity without an external MCU at a cost effective price point. Using our UART AT command option, they can quickly add a serial-to-WiFi converter for existing MCU based designs without porting any host driver,” said Keith Sugawara, VP of business development, Silex America.

“Ayla’s IoT agent support of the QCA401x means that anyone creating connected products using the Qualcomm Technologies IoT processor can connect directly to the Ayla IoT cloud. This collaboration between Qualcomm Technologies and Ayla further simplifies and reduces costs while accelerating time to market for manufacturers creating connected things, including smaller-scale IoT products, such as wearables,” said Bill Podrasky, VP of business development, Ayla Networks.

“We are pleased to join forces with Qualcomm Technologies as an IoT cloud partner at Computex 2016 for the QCA401x product family. Exosite’s reliable, secure and scalable IoT platform and business transformation services help companies add connectivity to new and legacy products and bring them to market quickly,” said Hans Rempel, CEO, Exosite.

“IOTA Labs has developed cutting edge IoT solutions integrating Qualcomm Technologies’ latest products with the IOTA Labs platform. IOTA Labs’ leading edge IoT platform and experience acts as an accelerator for clients to transform their offerings into leading smarter products and services with a lower cost of ownership,” said Amit Singh, director and co-founder, IOTA Labs.

Maravedis is the leading analyst firm covering Wi-Fi. If you need market research on Wi-Fi or would like to produce unique content as part of your content marketing strategy, contact us today.

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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.

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