Semtech unveils new LoRa chip, looking to sew up LPWAN market

LoRa-owner Semtech has announced a new reference design for its LPWAN technology, claiming ultra-low power consumption, smaller form factors and longer range wireless connectivity – which could help LoRa proponents enable new use cases for the technology.

Semtech claims that LPWAN is going through a major shift, from trials to large scale deployments in smart cities, buildings, healthcare, logistics, and agriculture – more mature and advanced chipsets will be required to serve these large volume orders. On that note, Semtech has recently said that it has doubled LoRa revenue to $50m, and expects to exceed $100m in 2018.

The new LoRa radio extends the technology’s link budget by 20%, with a 50% reduction in receiver current (to 4.5mA) – meaning a claimed 30% extension of battery life. The design also comes with a +22dBm option, enabling the radio to shout that bit louder and connect with gateways further away.

Semtech claims the extended connectivity range also allows deep indoor and outdoor penetration. Penetration and coverage have been a persistent issue for LPWAN technologies, potential customers citing these issues when walking away from large deployments, after tests didn’t meet expectations. If Semtech has significantly improved LoRa in both these areas, it could bring potential customers back to the table.

Semtech has also added a new command interface that it says simplifies the radio configuration and shortens development time, needing only 10 lines of code to transmit or receive a packet. The LoRa radio form factor has also been improved, with the new footprint 45% smaller than the current generation – measuring just 4mm x 4mm. It is now being manufactured in a 90nm process, down from 180nm.

The chipset will also support FSK modulation, so that it is backwards compatible with legacy protocols that are migrating to LoRaWAN – offering dual-protocol deployments to gradually transition devices across. A new frequency spreading factor has been added, to better support dense LoRa networks – important for the protocol to scale.

The chipset design has a frequency range of 150-960MHz, according to Semtech, enough to enable LoRa devices to access all global unlicensed sub-GHz spectrum bands – a strong selling point for developers. There will be a version optimized for Chinese bands, the 22dBm SX1268, as well as the standard 22dBm SX1262, and the 15dBm SX1261.

The designs are currently sampling with lead customers and partners, and Semtech says that they will be commercially available in late Q1. Development kits are also available.

Like all the LPWAN technologies, LoRa had a quiet CES. US LoRa operator Senet was providing the show with a network, in partnership with Kerlink and TekTelic, and was showing off what it called the first demo of LoRa 1.1’s roaming capabilities, via the TekTelic Kona Macro Gateways. TrackNet was also demonstrating its LoRa-powered tracking tags, on the Senet network.

In other LPWAN news, Sigfox this week announced that it had a secured a deal with China Unicom that is valued at a staggering $360m, making it the company’s largest deal to date. The specifics of the deal, in terms of the number of devices or what application they will be used in, have not yet been made public.

Speaking to EE Times, chief LoRa rival Sigfox’s CMO, Laetitia Jay, said that Sigfox had a presence in 42 countries, serving 2m active devices – with 10m in the pipeline. Sigfox has been subject of much speculation, mostly from Light Reading, regarding an executive exodus.

In related IoT connectivity news, the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance has published new rules for TV White Space (TVWS) technology, the group hopes that the rule changes will cause those making IoT deployments to consider the approach as an option. The rules were originally published in 2014, based on the regulatory frameworks put in place by Ofcom in the UK and Federal Communications Commission in the US. In terms of major deals, it’s been very quiet on the TVWS front for some time, but perhaps the new rules will spark renewed interest in the technology.