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Semtech IoT Radios Go the Distance

January 30, 2018

Author: Bob Wheeler

Despite NB-IoT’s emergence, LoRa retained its lead in 2017 low-power-WAN (LPWAN) shipments. Investing to maintain this momentum, Semtech is rolling out the SX126x second-generation LoRa radios, which boost integration and ease software design while also reducing system-level power consumption. For typical sensors, the company says its new chips can extend battery life by 30%. They even enable a reference design for disposable tracking tags that use a thin printed battery and can be applied using flexible tape or paper substrates.

Compared with the prior generation, the SX126x chips reduce power consumption substantially in both receive and transmit modes. They adopt a tiny 4mm package—less than half the area of an already diminutive 6mm one. Delivering up to 22dBm of output power, the second-generation design eliminates the need for the external power amplifier (PA) that long-range applications previously required. Although the design implements a broad and continuous frequency range, Semtech offers versions that meet regional regulations. It expects to qualify the SX1261 (E.U.), SX1262 (U.S.), and SX1268 (China) for production this quarter.

Semtech remains the only vendor developing LoRa radios, but it has amassed a large ecosystem through the LoRa Alliance. Rather than develop microcontrollers (MCUs) that integrate its radios, the company works with leading MCU vendors including Microchip, Renesas, and STMicroelectronics. Recently, LTE NB-IoT has emerged as LoRa’s main competitor, but the former requires licensed spectrum whereas the latter uses unlicensed bands, benefiting service providers that don’t own cellular spectrum. The IoT market is diverse, but Semtech has taken the lead in smart meters and has a growing presence in asset tracking and smart cities.

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