Intel has built a tiny 3G modem designed for the massive numbers of small devices that will be part of the Internet of things.
The chip maker on Aug. 26 launched the XMM 6255, which officials called the world's smallest standalone 3G modem. They hope it will become the wireless solution for many of the billions of devices—from sensors and wearable devices to security and industrial systems—that are expected to connect to the Internet and each other over the next several years.
The new modem—which is about 300 millimeters in size and can fit into something as small as a smartwatch or sensor—is a key part of a larger wide-ranging push by Intel to become a key technology player in the Internet of things (IoT). The chip vendor last year created a business unit dedicated to the IoT, and included in the products the company has created with the IoT in mind are the Quark family of small and energy-efficient systems-on-a-chip and the Galileo IoT developer kit created in conjunction with open-source hardware maker Arduino. Intel also joined Dell, Samsung and others in July in launching the Open Interconnect Consortium, a vendor group aimed at creating an industry-standard specification that will help drive interoperability and define connectivity requirements in the billions of systems that will make up the IoT.
The XMM 6255 is another step in Intel's IoT journey. The product includes Intel's SMARTI UE2p radio frequency transceiver, which the company said is based on its new Intel Power Transceiver technology. The technology combines transmit and receive functionality with an integrated power amplifier and power management, and puts it all into a single chip. With this design, there are fewer components needed for the modem, which means a smaller modem that makes it easier and cheaper for devices manufacturers, and protects the radio from overheating, voltage peaks and damage if the device is in a harsh environment, according to a post on the Intel blog.
"The integration of the power amplifier and transceiver you see in this modem also simplifies the design and minimizes device development costs, which means developers can launch more products, more quickly, and in a more cost-effective manner," Stefan Wolff, vice president of Intel's Mobile and Communications Group and general manager of multicommunications at the company, wrote in the blog.
The XMM 6255 is housed in the u-blox SARA-U2 module, which also includes a memory chip, an isoplexer for antennas and the X-Gold 624 baseband processor. The modem offers solid communication in places with low signals, such as parking garages or home basements, and can deliver strong 3G connectivity even from small-volume antennas that don't meet mobile phone quality standards, Wolff wrote.
The IoT is getting a lot of attention from a wide range of tech vendors and component makers, including ARM, Advanced Micro Devices, Broadcom and Freescale, which in February showed off a small ARM-based microcontroller that fits inside the dimple of a golf ball. The projected numbers for the market explain the interest. The number of connected devices by 2020 will hit from 26 billion, according to Gartner analysts, to 50 billion, per numbers from Cisco Systems. In addition, IDC analysts expect revenues in the IoT market to reach $7.1 trillion by that year.
Cisco CEO John Chambers has called the Internet of everything—the networking giant's term for the IoT—the biggest transition in the tech industry since the Internet, and predicts that the financial impact for businesses worldwide will hit $19 trillion by 2020.
At the same time, Gartner analysts earlier this month said the IoT has become the most hyped technology of the year.