R&D – Challenge and Chance

By Sandro Spanghero, Global VP R&D Telit Communications PLC.

Talking about technology is always challenging and sometimes dangerous but for an IT company it is a mandatory and obvious requirement. At Telit we are accustomed to analyzing mature and new technologies using a particular magnifying glass: the requirements of m2m.

Looking at communication technologies from this point of view it is possible to perceive some differentiation factors that are not present in consumer products. An example of this peculiarity pertains to the GSM/GPRS technology. It is very well known that this communication standard specified in the 1980s is so fully mature that it begs the question: why continue investing in it? This rationale whereas quite legitimate for consumer products– with the exception of some emerging countries – is not applicable to our market segment. Even now in 2011, more than 20 years after the market introduction of GSM technology, the m2m world finds itself focusing substantial effort in 2/2.5G devices and applications, with carriers pledging to continue maintaining their existing infrastructure for this generation of cellular technology for years and years to come. And this is the reason why Telit started the development of the so called V2 platform in 2008, launching the first product in that platform in 2009, later completing the migration of the roadmap and also adding new products based on the GL865 form factor. This platform will now extend the life of GPRS products in the Telit portfolio to 2016 and beyond.

But the implementation of a new platform is not only motivated by new component introduction, it is much more than that. As per our strategy, V2 products have maintained all features present in our previous platforms while several new features and optimizations that were not possible to be offered in the previous Lite platform have been added in V2. One such new feature that immediately comes to mind is idle current consumption, which is a very relevant parameter for several m2m applications: this value has been reduced by about 40%. Another is the implementation of Release 4 of the 3GPP protocol layer which imposes much more severe control over the emitted power from the mobile station. Relevant developments, specific for the automotive grade products based on the V2 platform include the implementation of an in-band modem feature –subject of a specific white paper available in the Telit web site, and VDA certification, level 2A.

The pie diagram in Figure 1 shows the results of the different audio parameters measured in a controlled test environment using standard components for the audio path and using only the echo cancellation parameters embedded into the GE864 Quad Automotive V2. These two features will allow customers to develop low cost e-call applications without using sophisticated external components providing the required flexibility for tuning the application to successfully pass stringent automotive industry requirements.

However, these very important activities in GPRS technology are not in any way compromising development work related to 3G platforms. It is clear that whereas GPRS is still the main technology used by the m2m market, the trend is that in the next five years this will change. As can be gleaned from the ABI Research graph on shipments by technology in Figure 2, GPRS volumes remain almost flat in the next five years, while market growth comes from different technologies, mainly WCDMA but also EVDO and then LTE.

It is clear that 3G’s real market introduction will be propelled by specific segments such as automotive – where Telit is already supplying the UC864 E Auto and the UC864 AWS Auto for European and North America markets respectively– but many others will follow. For this reason Telit R&D investments into 3G platforms are growing, already representing more than 50% of the total departmental budget. The R&D team located in Seoul, Korea, that focused from the beginning on WCDMA and CDMA products is in charge of maintaining the UC864 and CC864 platforms, but also the market introduction of the new HE863 variants, a new HSPA Automotive platform that will be introduced in 2013 – an updated EVDO product mainly for US market – and a new low-cost CDMA platform for global markets. In parallel the R&D team in Trieste, Italy has from the beginning of 2010 been involved in the alignment of the Telit AT interface and features across the different cellular platforms– 2G and 3G, and in the development of the new HE910, that will once again, become the market’s smallest module in its category. In 2011 Telit will definitely confirm its leadership not only in 2.5G product offerings but also in 3G and 3G+ as a result of its long term investments and commitment.

A different R&D approach is required for short range communications devices. Telit has two groups working with this technology area. The first is located in Sophia Antipolis, France. This team because of its platform expertise has responsibility over short range products using ZigBee, M-Bus, IEEE802.15.2, and our proprietary protocol. The other team, located in Cagliari, Italy, is in charge of the work to integrate short range and cellular technologies into applications and gateways which bridge local –short range to cellular. These two teams will be integrated into sharing responsibility for offering complete solutions from sensor to internet. Because there are many aspects in the deployment and implementation of communication systems which make them much more complex than the “simple” cellular, requiring deep understanding of different technologies from the device as well as the network point of view and also in this case the investments that Telit continues its commitment, reaffirming its willingness to continue playing as the leader in m2m.

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