Wake up and smell the vaporware of LTE for IoT: Page 2 of 3

November 07, 2016 //By Scott Elder
Analog IC design consultant Scott Elder ponders the race to achieve compliance with LTE Release 13 which includes support for low bandwidth, low power IoT applications.

I’ve not seen any pricing for LTE-IoT network subscriptions yet. That appears to remain top secret. Certainly, it will be the cost of a subscription, not the price of a modem, that will determine which technology grabs the lion’s share of those 50 billion sockets.

While it seems that everybody knows what narrowband LTE will do, apparently nobody agrees on what it is called. I’ve read terms like LTE-M, CAT-M2, NB-IOT, NB1 – and I have probably missed a few other acronyms. Regardless of what it is called, I certainly can’t find any modems available for purchase that use these standards. There are lots of flyers, and marketing brochures, promises of pending releases, and places to “pre-order”. But apparently no parts yet.

I certainly don’t want to disparage the companies that have been playing the vaporware game – and there are a lot them – but it sure seems like the management at those companies has not studied what happened a few decades ago to semiconductor companies that played this same game. Today, most companies quietly introduce products to lead customers without announcement to the general technical population. But I don’t recall in a long long time seeing so many public press releases, for so many months, promising things that are not for sale. It has been so long that I can’t even recall the last time I heard the term vaporware.

Perhaps these pre-announcements have a lot to do with the two big tigers standing in the back of the IoT cage. Namely, Intel and Qualcomm. Those companies also have pre-announced IoT products purportedly coming out in 2017. But rather than just a transceiver with a baseband layer and power management, they will also include full-blown microcontrollers with all the bells and whistles. And they will no doubt be manufactured on something close to a 14nm process. We very well may see another blood bath like happened when the smartphone application processor business collapsed a few years ago.