With the acquisition of Altair, Sony aims to move forward with research on and development of new sensing technologies.
By combining satellite-based GPS data with cellular-based positioning information, “we can offer a single, cohesive location engine,” said Eran Eshed, Altair Semiconductor’s co-founder and vice president of worldwide sales and marketing.
By integrating GPS in the CAT-1/NB1 chip, Altair has executed on Sony’s vision. When Sony announced its plan to acquire Altair, the Japanese company said in its press announcement then:
With the acquisition of Altair, Sony aims to not only expand Altair's existing business, but also to move forward with research on and development of new sensing technologies. By combining Sony's sensing technologies—such as GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) and image sensors—with Altair's high-performance, low power consumption and cost-competitive modem chip technology, and by further evolving both, Sony will strive to develop a new breed of cellular-connected, sensing component devices.
FD-SOI on horizon?
It’s well known that Sony designed its latest GPS chip on 28nm Fully Depleted Silicon ON Insulator (FD-SOI) process. That chip went into a smartwatch rolled out in China last fall by Huami, Xiaomi’s sub-brand.
Asked if Altair’s new CAT-1/NB1 chip is also built on FD-SOI, Eshed demurred. He offered no details on Altair’s foundry or process technology. But when pressed if Altair may use FD-SOI for future cellular IoT solutions, Eshed, while remaining cryptic, said, “We now have access to” those technologies—developed and deployed by Sony. Altair can design a broader technology platform where “we can consider bundling and leveraging” of [Sony’s] technologies, Eshed explained.
Security designed in
Besides making a chip that consumes significantly lower power, Eshed said, “We’ve invested a lot of our resources in making ALT1250 secure.” Although not disclosing all the security mechanisms built into the chip, he explained, “We address the security requirements in three layers—on device level, cellular connection and application layer.”
More specifically, Altair has secured the ALT1250 device from getting hacked either physically or remotely. He noted that a cellular connection piece ensures security, but declined to elaborate. The third layer is security on the application layer. The goal is to integrate security without necessarily adding security hardware—which can become too costly for certain very low-cost IoT nodes. Under an ideal scenario, “you turn on the power, it connects your device to the cellular network, but, the connectivity comes with enough designed-in security.”
Timing of launch
Last fall, Sequans became the first in the industry to sample a Cat M1/NB1 chip, called “Monarch.”
Sequans’ purpose-built narrow-band IoT chip—now in production—was used by Telefónica to complete the first live LTE Cat M1 data call in Europe, Sequans announced Tuesday (Feb. 14).
In contrast, Altair’s software has been tested in a trial with partners in a CAT M1 live network, but the company does not yet have silicon. Altair’s Eshed said that mass production of ALT1250 is scheduled in the second half of this year.
Altair, however, is not worried about being late to the ball. “With carriers expected to begin operating IoT services on CAT-M1 and NB1 networks by the middle of the year, our chip comes at the right time,” said Eshed.
This article first appeared on EE Times U.S.