Qualcomm’s latest IoT modem chipset covers nearly all the 3GPP bases

As 2018 wound to a close, Qualcomm gave an international launch for its MDM9205, a modem chipset which supports all three current 3GPP standards for IoT applications. Based on an ARM Cortex A7 processor core, it supports LTE Cat-M1, Cat-NB2 (the latest iteration of NB-IoT), and the enhanced 2G M2M technology, E-GPRS. It also includes satellite location support and comes with Qualcomm’s Trusted Execution Environment.

The low power LTE variants support higher bandwidth (and therefore higher power consumption) than their Unlicensed LPWAN counterparts, LoRA and Sigfox. Because of this, and the higher cost of a cellular solution (especially a Qualcomm one), the MDM9205 will be targeted at higher value applications which are not too power-constrained but need very good coverage. These could include wearables, asset tracking, and some forms of environmental sensing, where the higher power draw is tolerated in exchange for the improved throughput.

The new chipset is 50% smaller and 70% more power efficient when idle than its predecessor, the MDM9206. The older reference module measured 21.8mm by 19.2mm, while the new one measures 14.7mm by 15.3mm.

Qualcomm is also claiming a commercial first in Licensed LPWAN, by integrating an RF transceiver – spanning 450 MHz to 2.1 GHz, or 23 LTE bands – into the front end. This helps position the product as a global product, and for multinational businesses (such as logistics firms), or their service providers, having a single design that can be used across its entire footprint is valuable.

Qualcomm says that the integrated nature of the new chipset should enable more cost-effective options for customers. The application processor removes the need for a separate microcontroller, allowing software to run on the modem chipset itself, and the front end is integrated too.

The first modules based on the 9205 are expected to appear in early 2019, with the launch supported by manufacturers including Gemalto, Quectel and Telit.

With the Chinese market always in mind, Qualcomm highlighted that the 9205 supports Ali Things OS, the real time operating system that Alibaba is pushing as an IoT platform in its home country. The associated software developers’ kit provides support for Alibaba Cloud Link One, China Mobile’s OneNet, as well as Verizon’s ThingSpace and Ericsson’s IoT Accelerator. Besides Ali Things OS, developers can also use ThreadX, a popular real time operating system developed by Express Logic.

Qualcomm has gradually added all the 3GPP M2M technologies to its portfolio. First, its  MDM9207-1 modem supported LTE Cat 1, with the MDM9206 providing LTE Cat-M1 and Cat-NB1 (the new name for NB-IoT). The MDM 9205 has added the Release 14 version of NB-IoT, Cat-NB2, but not yet the Release 14 upgrade to Cat-M1 (called Cat-M2). Beyond its cellular support, the MDM9205 is also a simpler, cheaper solution than its predecessors – it has a slower clock speed in the application processor, and unlike the MDM9207, does not include WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities.

Qualcomm stresses that the new chipset is compatible with the software and SDK used in the MDM9206, which should mean customers can easily update their designs to use the newer chip. Keeping the upgrade path streamlined is important for customers that are planning multi-decade business models.

“The innovations included in the Qualcomm 9205 LTE modem are critical to support many of the 6bn IoT devices expected to use low power, wide area connectivity by 2026,” said Vieri Vanghi, VP of product management at Qualcomm Europe. “LTE IoT technologies are the foundation of how 5G will help connect the massive IoT, and we are making these technologies available to customers worldwide to help them build innovative solutions that can help transform industries and improve people’s lives.”