February 20, 2013
By Kevin Fitchard
Altair Semiconductor is the latest silicon company to lay claim to an LTE-Advanced chip. In preparation for Mobile World Congress next week in Barcelona, the Israeli vendor on Wednesday announced its latest-generation LTE silicon for USB dongles, mobile hotspots, smartphones and, eventually, gadgets in the internet of things.
As I wrote earlier this week, LTE-Advanced is a much-abused term, used increasingly throughout the industry to make LTE products seem much more significant than they actually are. Carriers and vendors have latched onto a single technique in LTE-Advanced standard to justify their use of the moniker.
Altair is no exception, though to be fair its new super-chips are more advanced that others. It’s incorporated into its designs two techniques from the LTE-Advanced standard: carrier aggregation, which bonds together disparate swathes of spectrum into one big super-carrier, and enhanced inter-cell interference coordination (eICIC), which will allow small cells and big macrocells to coexist in the same airwaves.
What’s more, Altair co-founder and marketing VP Eran Eshed said that whatever LTE-Advanced techniques its chips don’t support today will be supported in the future through software upgrades. “In contrast to competitive solutions, Altair’s solution is based on a very advanced and powerful SDR (Software Defined Radio) architecture which means that we have the ability to deploy a chipset and upgrade its features as standards evolve,” Eshed told me via email.
Perhaps the most notable detail in Altair’s new chip specs, though, is its use of envelope tracking. It’s an obscure little technology being developed by companies like Nujira and Quantance, but envelope tracking has the potential to significantly boost 4G-device battery life by tempering LTE’s innate power hunger. Eshed wouldn’t tell me whose envelope tracking technology Altair is using, but this is the first implementation of the technology I’ve seen in a chipset.