Intel’s new modem measures just 300mm2, which makes it ideal for use in connected objects, especially wearables.

With a few exceptions, wearable electronic devices already on the market need to link up with your smartphone in order to work. This approach, as demonstrated by the first connected watches, is likely to remain the rule or will at least almost always be the case. This type of wearable technologies are not in fact connected to the Internet in order to transfer the data collected. The basic reason for this has to do with the size of the 3G or 4G antennas, which tend to get sidelined in the constant tug-of-war to gain space in the device. Now Intel thinks it has found an answer to this limitation. The world’s leading micro-processor manufacturer has just launched the smallest 3G modem ever made. The XMM 6255 has an effective board area of around 300mm2 – i.e. it is not much bigger than a US one cent coin.

A “good 3G connection”

Stefan Wolff, Vice President of Intel’s Product Engineering Group, says that the XMM 6255 is specially designed to deliver good radio signal quality even in small form factor devices that may not have enough space for a normal-sized 3G antenna. He claims it provides a good 3G connection despite its small antennae, which are not of the same quality as portable phones. It boasts download speeds of up to

7.2 Mbps and upload speed up to 5.6 Mbps. This miniature modem uses the latest in-house architecture: a transceiver chip, the SMARTi UE2p, which combines the ‘transmit’ and ‘receive’ functions with an integrated power amplifier and power management all in the same package, thus reducing the number of components needed. Stefan Wolff says that the new modem simplifies the task of manufacturers, who can use it to “launch more products faster and in a more economical way.” The US chip giant also assures its customers that the modem’s architecture protects it from dangers such as voltage peaks, overheating and other things that can occur under extreme usage conditions.

Underpinning the Internet of Things

Having missed the smartphone boat, the Santa Clara-based chipmaker is now hoping that this modem will be a way to get ahead in the field of wearables, a market seen as highly promising by many analysts. Intel’s ambitions do not end there, however. The company also wants to play a leading role in the Internet of Things, that fast-approaching day when everything will be connected to the web. Stefan Wolff talks for example about security devices and industrial equipment as other areas that could benefit from the wireless solution provided by the new modem, as the size of the components will be a vital factor for companies wanting to capture a good slice of the market. In addition, a battle is raging between two opposing camps over the standards that will be adopted. The first is led by Intel, backed by Samsung, Dell and others. The second group includes such powerful players as Microsoft, Qualcomm and Cisco. Meanwhile Google and Apple might also try to impose their respective technology.  Against this background, Intel is looking to place its standard in pole position with the new miniature chip.

By Jérôme Marin