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Qualcomm sees huge growth potentials in IoT connected, wearable device market

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(iTers News)  - Qualcomm Inc. starts to charges into post-smart phone era to prepare itself for what’s coming as a Next Big Thing –the Internet of Things market.

The mobile CPU giant’s subsidiary, Qualcomm Atheros, Inc. has unveiled a new low-power Wi-Fi solution as a wireless communications backbone platform for the Internet of Everything.

The IoT market is all about the way that almost all devices are connected across the Internet to communicate with each other. It promises to create huge new market opportunities. By some estimates, there would be approximately 10 billion connected devices by 2017, creating potentially huge M2M, or machine to machine markets. 

Wearable devices like smart watches and smart glasses are among them. The applications are enormous.  It will enable users to remotely control their home appliances like refrigerators, hair dryers, washing machines, and electricity utilities. Applications go beyond consumer area. It can be used in industrial factory remote control, healthcare, and hospitals.

IoT comes of age

So far, license-free low-power 2.4GHz 802.15.4 .ZigBee short wireless mesh network has been expected to become a fundamental last mile technology of the M2M , or IoT communications platforms.

Yet, Qualcomm is championing 802.11 low-power Wi-Fi technology, because it is already everywhere –more ubiquitous than ZigBee that  just started to buzz its way into home automation and control market.

True enough, Qualcomm is better poised to preempt the just fledgling, but potentially huge IoT market. Its recent debut of Qualcomm Toq smart watch prototype is a clue to how the mobile SoC chip giant will piece together the nuts and bolts to deliver on its vision on the IoT market..

Scheduled to hit markets in the 4th quarter of fiscal 2013, the Toq smart watch comes equipped with ARM Cortex-M3 CPU processor and Thread X embedded RTOS, or real time OS software. Once users syncs the Toq smart watch with their Android phone using a built-in Bluetooth personal area network, or PNA, Qualcomm demonstrated that it can switch on, off  LED light bulbs or a hairdryer somewhere near it using its host device smart phone’s low-power Wi-Fi network. Of course, the hair dryer and LED light bulb must come equipped with a low-power Wi-Fi RF and baseband module chip.

ZigBee vs. Wi-Fi

The Qualcomm Toq doesn't need to be as powerful as a full-fledged smart phone, because it is just nothing but a companion device that is designed to complement its host smart phones, allowing users to check incoming email messages, voice calls, stock quotes and weather information. This is the reason why Qualcomm has built the Toq smart watch around low-performance, but low-power ARM Cortex –M3 processor. Qualcomm told that its processing power or clock speed is just running below 300MHz.

Nor does the Thread X RTOS software need to be as powerful as that on a smart phone. Indeed, the Toq smart watch is typical of a wearable smart M2M device that runs on a low-power CPU and small embedded OS platform, because a long-lasting battery life is as important.

This helps explain why processor IP core makers like ARM, Imagination Technologies, Intel as well as embedded RTOS makers are renewing their focus on the IoT markets. For example, Imagination Technologies sees great potentials in the IoT market, betting it will be Next Big Thing that will lead the post- smart phone era.  

10 billion connected devices

Qualcomm has three more technology key building blocks up its sleeve; Mirasol reflective display, quick wireless charging technology , low-power Wi-Fi chip solution and AllJoyn software stack.      .

Its Mirasol display is MEMS micro-mirror technology-based, and it reflect ambient lights like sunlight, so that, unlike a LCD panel, it comes with no backlight system, which guzzle power. Its wireless charging technology is quick enough to recharge the Toq smart watch to the full in less than 2 hours. Once charged, according to Qualcomm, it keeps running for days until it goes dead.

Finally, here comes a low-power Wi-Fi SoC solution and AllJoyn software framework.

ARM, Imagination on the sprawl

. The QCA4002 and QCA4004 Wi-Fi networking platforms include the IP stack and full networking services on the chip to enable customers to add Wi-Fi to virtually any product with minimal development effort or cost.

The platforms feature an on-chip processor and memory, which are designed to eliminate the need for a system controller that adds to product cost, complexity and power consumption.

Using the QCA4004, customers can now write their own applications on the Qualcomm Atheros platform instead of simply using it for Wi-Fi connectivity.

Target applications for the QCA4002/4004 platforms include major home appliances such as washing machines, air conditioners, hot water heaters, and so on, consumer electronics, and sensors and smart plugs for home lighting, security and automation systems.

Haier jumps on the bandwagon  

The QCA4004 has been incorporated into a washer/dryer combo and an air conditioner unit by Haier, a global leader in home appliances and consumer electronics.

The QCA4002/4004 platforms also feature the AllJoyn software framework, which enables the "Internet of things near me" by providing seamless connectivity and communications among a diverse set of products, applications and services to create compelling, proximal user experiences.

The AllJoyn software framework provides basic building blocks for maximum flexibility and includes a set of services that, by design, are very simple and address near-universal requirements for users to interact with nearby things: onboarding, notifications, audio streaming and control.

Qualcomm works together with some top-tier consumer electronics giants to live up to its vision on the IoT market. 

AllJoyn software tells what is nearby 

The company joins hands with Haier of China to build Haier’s wash and dryer combo around the QCA4004 platform. Haier has demonstrated at its IFA booth how users put them in sync with their smart phones to switch on, or off Haier’s wash and dryer combo.

"Because of the turnkey nature of Qualcomm Atheros' low-power Wi-Fi connectivity platform, Haier has been able to quickly develop cutting-edge appliances that are ready for large-scale distribution," said Lily Li, general manager of Qingdao Haier Smart Home Technology Limited.

"We fully expect these connected appliances to be popular among consumers who want the convenience of receiving remote notifications and being able to set commands through their mobile devices.

"Part of Qualcomm's vision for the Internet of Everything is to provide low power, efficient connectivity as its enabling foundation. Qualcomm Atheros is making standards-based Wi-Fi feasible for a multitude of new devices in the home and office," said Jason Zheng, senior vice president, Qualcomm Atheros.

"The QCA4002 and QCA4004 platforms enable lower power usage and elimination of host processors to ensure better usage and simpler implementation with ease of configuration and interoperability, a first in the industry."

Both the QCA4002 and QCA4004 include a Green TX feature that allows devices to reduce the transmit power by up to one-half when in close proximity of another device or access point.

This dynamic power adjustment, along with sleep modes consuming less than 1mW, allows for more efficient communication and longer battery life in applications such as remote controls, thermostats and sensors.

The low power sleep operation is handled through an onboard wake-up manager that enables self-wake and sleep management on the platform which can further reduce sleep power (down to microamps). Additionally, the platforms can wake from suspend four times faster than other products in the category, which reduces the total average power profile and any system latency.

The QCA4002 is available in full production now. The QCA4004 chip is currently sampling and available with an evaluation platform, and will be available in full production during the fourth quarter of this year.


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