Qualcomm is launching two new IoT chips today, one is an evolution and the other a new line. SemiAccurate thinks both of these devices are interesting because they are true IoT SoCs, including radios this time around.
The two new lines are the QCA401x and it’s bigger brother the QCA4531. Both are quite different in capabilities and both are aimed at different market segments. Officially Qualcomm is positioning the QCA401x as a client device and the QCA4531 as a gateway device, but it’s real uses are only limited by the company implementing them. So what are they?
You might have noticed the ‘x’ at the end of the QCA401x, that is because there are two similar variants but we will treat them as the same for the purposes of this article. Both of them have a very small Tensilica CPU core running an RTOS and bolted to an 802.11n radio. There is also 800KB of memory on die so this is a true SoC, you don’t really need much more.
Well that isn’t actually true, most of the IoT devices out there tend to do something, not just run code for no reason, and things based on the QCA401x are no exception. Luckily for people implementing IoT widgets, Qualcomm put in a bunch of sensor interfaces and some PWM controls, so all a designer needs to add is sensors, maybe a relay or two, and a power supply. And code, that is the hard part.
To be fair both the QCA401x and QCA4531 are members of the Alljoyn family so there should be an abundance of compatible tools and pre-built functions for a designer to start from. Like most IoT devices from major vendors, you almost never have to start from scratch. Qualcomm gets the time to market and cost of programming side of deployment and is working hard to reduce it.
Moving back to the hardware we have the QCA4531, the bigger of the two devices released. The QCA401x was the third generation of small Qualcomm IoT devices in its class but the QCA4531 is a first. Rather than be a connected light bulb controller, this one has much more beefy capabilities. It starts out with a MIPS based CPU and runs Linux/OpenWRT. The difference between an RTOS and Linux is pretty substantial so the hardware is scaled to match.
QCA4531 also comes with an 802.11n radio but this time it is a 2×2 which is perfect for gateway uses. The core in it probably can’t saturate a 1×1 802.11n link so the additional channel is probably meant for relays and firewalling IoT devices from the Internet proper. It may cost more but it is a really good idea for security to have two 802.11 networks.
On the software front, having a bunch of IoT devices sending data is rather pointless if you have nothing to send it to or worse yet nothing to do with all the data connected. Qualcomm has previously teamed up with 2lemetry for this purpose and now adds six new partners. They are, in no particular order other than alphabetical, Ayla Networks, Exosite, Kii, Proximetry, Temboo, and Xively.
If you are making IoT thingies, one of these providers will probably have a solution for you, or you can roll your own if you want. You can pick up a QCA4531 now, it has actually been shipping for a while and is in products now. If you want a QCA401x, you will have to wait a bit longer, it is currently sampling and end-user products are expected this year. All in all not a bad set of offerings, hardware, software, connectivity, and a place to put all the stuff you collect. Start hacking.S|A