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Sequans shows ‘vision of future’ with energy harvesting in cellular IoT module

Chip and module make Sequans has showcased a cellular-based LTE-M and NB-IoT connectivity solution at CES in Las Vegas that harvests solar energy to do-away with a battery completely, and to reduce the footprint and cost of the IoT sensor unit.

The French firm has worked with Belgium-based e-peas, a supplier of energy harvesting semiconductor solutions, on the demo. The pair are offering a reference design with schematics for IoT companies, enabling them to design and build their own connected IoT devices using energy harvesting technology.

The energy harvesting solution combines an energy-harvesting (AEM10941) integrated circuit (IC) from e-peas with the Monarch IoT platform from Sequans, to create a unit that operates without batteries. The IC transfers energy from a photovoltaic harvester to a storage element and then to the IoT module, where it powers a sensor device measuring power, light, and humidity. 

The demo kit is supplied with a small indoor DSC photovoltaic cell that can power various IoT applications using indoor light and LTE-based connectivity. Sensors collect data while the lighting environment is loading the capacitor. Data can be sent up to eight times a day, with no need of batteries, using a 15 cm2 indoor photovoltaic cell under 500 Lux, making the devices completely energy self-sufficient and CO2 neutral.

In an outdoor environment, the size of the photovoltaic cell can be reduced to allow for energy-autonomous devices in an even smaller form factor, said Sequans. 

Didier Dutronc, executive vice president and head of massive IoT at Sequans, said: “Energy harvesting technology is ushering in a new era where IoT devices will no longer have to run on batteries. This will have a profound impact on the IoT market and will greatly increase the number and types of applications that can be connected, extending it to those applications where direct power connection or manual intervention to change batteries is not possible.

“In addition to the significant cost and practical advantages of this, this technology also allows for a more sustainable IoT world through elimination of the production and recycling of billions of batteries every year. Energy harvesting offers one of the most exciting visions of the IoT future, and through our partnership with e-peas, a leader in advanced energy harvesting solutions, we aim to bring this vision to reality.”

Christian Ferrier, chief marketing officer at e-peas, said: “Not only do we show the viability of energy harvesting technology, but we show how IoT companies can build maintenance-free devices that can operate autonomously, which has a huge positive impact on sustainability, total cost of ownership, and device longevity.”

Meanwhile, has released an IoT developer kit at CES, under the name NEKTAR-B, that supports worldwide cellular IoT connectivity. The new prototyping platform embeds the TRIO mXTEND antenna component from Fractus Antennas and the Monarch 2 GM02S module from Sequans, which runs LTE Cat M1 and both NB-IoT NB1 and NB2. 

The platform, using a single embedded antenna component, enables connectivity, anywhere, between 617 MHz and 2200 MHz. Sequans and Fractus Antennas said they want to make IoT design simpler by giving customers a prototype that can become the final product without changing the antenna component. 

“The designer only needs to adjust a matching network that shapes the frequency response of any wireless platform; therefore, the antenna component remains the same regardless of the size or form factor,” they said in a statement.

In further news, Sequans said it is working with Renesas Electronics to develop 5G modules based on its upcoming Taurus 5G platform. Renesas will gain non-exclusive technology access and licensing from Sequans. The pair previously worked on the Monarch platform. Sequans is supplying the 5G modem technology, and Renesas is supplying the analog (FR1/FR2) front-end technology.

The Taurus 5G platform is 3GPP Release 16 compliant and optimized to address a wide range of enhanced broadband and critical IoT applications, including fixed wireless access, mobile computing, private and vertical networks, industrial machinery, AR/VR, and drones. 

The collaboration also gives Renesas access to Sequans’ new Cat 1 chip platform, Calliope 2, designed to bring power and cost efficiencies to IoT applications that require VoLTE and over 100kbps data rates, which cannot be supported by LTE-M or NB-IoT. 

Typical Calliope 2 applications include wearables and hearables with music streaming and voice support, and smart city and smart home IoT devices such as security cameras, alarm panels, and utility meters. Renesas expects to deliver modules supporting 4G extensions and most 5G modes from late 2021.

Georges Karam, chief executive at Sequans, said: “Seeing the good momentum of our collaboration on massive IoT with joint LTE-M/NB-IoT solutions, we are excited now to embark on the road to 5G broadband IoT with Renesas. Renesas is a powerhouse in design and execution with global market reach, and our collaboration will benefit the entire 5G IoT industry.”

As well, Sequans has introduced an LTE-M and NB-IoT module tailored for developers working with mobile operator Orange in Europe. The new Monarch GMS01Q module, based on the Monarch chip platform, comes with a pre-integrated Orange SIM card with a data plan that gives Orange IoT customers a “complete embedded connectivity solution for the design of IoT devices including sensors, meters, buttons, and trackers of all kinds”.

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