Meet Sens’it, a gadget that lets you play with Sigfox’s IoT network

Consumer gadget enthusiasts might have fawned over the new Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and the Huawei Watch at Mobile World Congress, but if you are an internet of things geek, the most interesting device at MWC was probably at the other end of the Fira Gran Via at Sigfox’s booth. The French startup, which is trying to build a global wireless network solely for the internet of things, was showing off a pill-shaped device it designed to let IoT developers test out its network.

Called the Sens’it, the device has no screen or keypad, just an LED light that doubles as its only button. Under the hood, there are three sensors: an accelerometer, a thermometer and a sound meter, all of which turn themselves on at intervals to take a snapshot of their surroundings and then communicate that data over Sigfox’s network.

If you’re looking for a practical application here, there isn’t one. On its own, the device doesn’t really do anything. Sigfox intends for the device, which was built by Axible, to be a proof of concept that developers can use to create their own applications. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a bit of fun with it.

The Sensit alongside the Sigfox web app

The Sensit next to the Sigfox web app

Sigfox has created a web app that allows you to access the data Sens’it collects, and it’s built a few communication hooks that trigger email and SMS alerts when the sensors are triggered. For instance, according to Sigfox head of marketing and communications Thomas Nicholls, you could put the Sens’it in your car and get an alert every time it moves. You could place the device in a cabin that otherwise has no power or internet connectivity and measure temperature and sound levels. The Sens’it also has a button that will trigger an email or SMS alert every time you double-tap it.

Nicholls gave me a Sens’it to play with while I was in Barcelona for MWC (Sigfox’s network isn’t in my hometown Chicago yet), and I made it do a few basic things. I got it to trigger an alert when my plane took off from the airport, and I sent random text messages to myself while I was wandering around. But someone with more time and creativity than me could do a lot more with the device by using IFTTT channels or by tapping into SMS APIs like those offered by Twilio and Nexmo.

An immensely useful application would be the ability to generate a “safety” call to my phone with a double tap of the Sens’it button. It doesn’t matter if there’s nothing but dead air at the other end of the line. It would be a great way to get out of conversation when someone has cornered you — on the show floor at MWC, for instance.

All of this is designed to prove the resiliency and range of Sigfox’s network, which is now live in Spain, France and Russia and will soon go online in the Netherlands and in the U.S., starting in San Francisco. Sigfox uses the Industrial Scientific and Medical (ISM) band used by Z-Wave and ZigBee to create a very low-power, long-range and low-throughput network.

A Sigfox ISM radio module

A Sigfox ISM radio module

That network is entirely unsuitable for a gadget or appliance that needs constant high-bandwidth links, such as a car or a tablet, but it excels in the low-bore connectivity world of the industrial internet. Sigfox connects home alarms, parking space sensors, water meters and even dog tracking collars — anything that only needs intermittent access to the network as well as a cheap radio and service plans.

One of the big selling points for Sigfox, Nicholls said, is its extremely long range. It can cover entire cities with just a handful of base stations, and it can reach far out to remote places that even cellular networks don’t reach. I can attest to that. Upon landing in New York after my plane experiment, I opened up my email and discovered that Sens’it had triggered several more emails 10 to 15 minutes after I took off from the Barcelona airport. That means it was still connecting to the Sigfox while we were at cruising altitude over the Spanish countryside. It only stopped linking up with the network once we hit the open ocean.

Sigfox only manufactured an initial batch of 1,000 Sens’it devices, so it’s not handing them out to everyone. But if you’re a service provider, IoT developer or just a curious maker with an idea, you can apply for a Sens’it here.

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Full duplex may be the next breakthrough in mobile networking

Stanford startup Kumu Networks didn’t receive much notice at Mobile World Congress this week as the giants of the mobile industry revealed their plans for 2015, but it did get the attention of two rather important mobile carriers. At their separate booths, Telefónica and SK Telecom were showing off a Kumu-built radio transmission system called full duplex, which both carriers said could eventually become one of the key technologies of any future 5G standard.

When the mobile companies pull out the 5G card, they’re usually trying to signal that something is a really big deal, and in the case of Kumu, they could very well be right. What full duplex does is solve a fundamental problem in wireless communications that limits a network’s full capacity potential: the inability to transmit and receive signals on a radio channel at the same time. The problem is known as self-interference, but the concept is not quite as complex as it sounds.

Shouting

Imagine two people are having a conversation, which itself is one of the simplest two-way — or duplex — communication channels. If both people are talking at the same time, neither one can understand what the other is saying. The words one person speaks get drowned out by the other’s voice before it ever reaches his ears. The same principle holds for wireless transmissions. When a radio is transmitting its signals bleed over into its own receiver interfering with the signals it’s trying to listen for.

For that reason wireless networks have always been built in something called half-duplex mode, which basically prevents them from ever transmitting and receiving in the same channel at the same time. It’s why most mobile networks in the world today use different sets of frequencies for downlink and uplink transmissions (For instance in many U.S. LTE systems, our devices receive data from the tower in a 2100 MHz channel, but they send information back at 1700 MHz). And it’s why a Wi-Fi router flip-flops between transmitting and receiving when it talks to your laptop or smartphone. Half-duplex has served the wireless industry well, but using it means you’re only using half of the total capacity of your airwaves at any given time.

Kumu Networks is based in Santa Clara but its roots are in Stanford where its founders started their full duplex research.

Kumu Networks is based in Santa Clara but its roots are in Stanford where its founders started their full duplex research.

 

As my colleague Signe Brewster wrote in Gigaom’s first look at the Stanford startup in 2013, Kumu claims to have developed the mathematical breakthrough necessary to solve the problem of self-interference at a practical level. And now it’s claiming to have produced a commercially viable full-duplex radio system that can transmit and receive simultaneously without turning its connection to mush. According to Kumu VP of product development Joel Brand, the company accomplished this by becoming a very smart listener.

Essentially Kumu is constantly scanning the radio environment, gauging the exact state of the airwaves at any given time, Brand said. Using internally developed algorithms, Kumu can “hear” how the transmission the radio is pumping out is changing the signal environment a the receiver. It can then compensate for those changes as signals heading the opposite direction arrive. It’s like echo cancellation applied to radio waves instead of sound.

Full Duplex demo

Kumu supplied some photos of the full duplex rig it demoed at Mobile World Congress, and I’ll be the first to admit it doesn’t look very impressive. But at MWC I asked Vish Nandlall, CTO of Australian multinational mobile carrier [company]Telstra[/company], about the technology, and he said it was the real deal. Full duplex isn’t some crazy new concept Kumu just made up one day, he said. Full duplex is used today in regular phone lines, and its application to wireless has been kicking around scientific papers and academic research labs for some time. But what Kumu did was come up with a viable technology that could be applied to real world networks, Nandlall said.

The impact could be quite significant. If you remove the self-interference barrier, carriers could use all of their spectrum for both uplink and downlink at the same time, which would double the capacity or double the number of connections any network could support. Wi-Fi networks would no longer have to alternate between sending data and receiving it, thus dramatically improving their download and upload speeds. It might not solve the so-called spectrum crunch, but it would go a long way to making wireless networks a lot more efficient.

Right now Kumu is pitching the technology to carriers as a backhaul system, so they could use their 4G spectrum to concurrently communicate with phones and the core network. But Brand says in the future full duplex can easily be applied to the access network connecting our devices. In fact, Kumu’s MWC demos were using off-the-shelf radio smartphone chips from [company]Qualcomm[/company], just with the duplexer ripped out. That kind of change would require a redesign of both our networks and our devices, which isn’t going to happen overnight. That’s why Kumu and its carrier partners [company]Telefónica[/company] and [company]SK Telecom[/company] are looking ahead to 5G.

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Broadcom’s new Wi-Fi chip turns your phone into an IoT hub

At Mobile World Congress, Broadcom released a new chipset designed to bring Wi-Fi’s speediest technology, 802.11ac, into smartphones. What makes this particular chipset stand out is that it’s able to support simultaneous connections over both of Wi-Fi’s bands (2.4 and 5 GHz).

Simultaneous dual band has become fairly common in high-end routers, but it’s never really made its way into mobile devices because it requires two Wi-Fi antennas to maintain dual connections. But [company]Broadcom[/company] has also been paving the way for dual-antenna, or MIMO, technology in high-end handsets.

Broadcom’s press release played up the fact that accessing two networks at the same time would produce some pretty big boosts in speeds for heavy bandwidth consumers. But when I spoke with David Recker, Broadcom senior director for wireless connectivity, he pointed that there’s an even bigger implication here. This new modem will help change the role of the smartphone in the wireless network from that of a mere client to that of a network controlling hub.

While our phones can use Wi-Fi to connect directly to other devices such as wearables or home appliances, they can’t do so while maintaining their own uninterrupted connection to a Wi-Fi router. This will solve that problem, which is becoming increasingly bigger as smartphones insert themselves into the internet of things. For instance, you could use your phone to download a video from a Wi-Fi network and simultaneously stream it to your TV. Or you could use a smartwatch connected by Wi-Fi Direct to your phone to check email, while listening to music streamed over the Wi-Fi network.

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FCC’s Wheeler makes net neutrality case before global carriers

Federal Communications Chairman Tom Wheeler said on Tuesday that he doesn’t put much credibility in claims that U.S. carriers would stop investing in their networks in his new era of network neutrality. Taking the stage at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona before a global carrier audience, he said that the U.S. telecom industry’s actions speak far louder than its public statements.

He pointed out that [company]Verizon[/company] in 2008 bid heavily and won for its initial 4G spectrum in 2008 even though it came with open internet stipulations similar to those implemented under the FCC’s new neutrality guidelines. Wheeler noted that this year’s 4G auction raised a record $41.3 billion even though the specter of the then-upcoming net neutrality vote had hung over the entire bidding process. [company]AT&T[/company] and [company]Verizon[/company] — two of the rules’ biggest opponents — spent a combined $28.6 billion in that auction.

“I don’t think any of the CFOs bidding in the auction just fell off the turnip truck,” Wheeler said after GSM Association Director General Anne Bouverot asked him whether it was fair to implement net neutrality right after those operators spent billions on new spectrum. Carriers bid on the licenses knowing full well that spectrum would be needed for the future growth of their networks whether net neutrality has passed or not, Wheeler said.

He also added [company]Sprint[/company], [company]T-Mobile[/company] and [company]Google[/company] Fiber had all committed to investing in their networks after the new regulations went into affect. Wheeler repeated many of the arguments he’s made for net neutrality over the last few months, though to a global audience unfamiliar with the fiery policy debate in the U.S., the information was largely new.

One question might have thrown Wheeler for a bit of a loop though. Bouverot said many of the countries represented at MWC might object to the nature of the FCC rules because their governments support developmental programs to bring cheap or free internet services to their unconnected citizens. Though she didn’t mention it by name, I assume she was referring to Internet.org, the founder of which, [company]Facebook[/company]’s Mark Zuckerberg, had spoken on the same stage Monday.

Wheeler responded that U.S. net neutrality rules could take those types of programs could be judged on a case-by-case basis, but he didn’t elaborate, and Bouverot didn’t press him. Under the rules, though, it’s unclear whether Internet.org could operate in the U.S. as it zero-rates, or exempts from all data charges, all mobile internet traffic to Facebook and a handful of other sites. Zero rating falls under the FCC’s general conduct rule which gives it the authority to ban practices that favor one service or app over another, which Internet.org clearly does.

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A look at Zeroth, Qualcomm’s effort to put AI in your smartphone

What if your smartphone camera were smart enough to identify that the plate of clams and black beans appearing in its lens was actually food? What if it then automatically could make the necessary adjustments to take a decent picture of said dish in the low light conditions of a restaurant? And what if it then without prompting, uploaded that photo to Foodspotting along with your location because, your camera phone knows from past experience you like to keep an endless record of your culinary conquests for the world to see?

These are just a few of the questions that [company]Qualcomm[/company] is asking of its new cognitive computing technology Zeroth, which aims to bring artificial intelligence out of the cloud and move it – or at least a limited version of it – into your phone. At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I sat down with Qualcomm SVP of product management Raj Talluri, who explained what Zeroth was all about.

Zeroth phones aren’t going to beat chess Grand Masters or create its own unique culinary recipes, but it will perform basic intuitive tasks and anticipate your actions, thus eliminating many of the rudimentary steps required to operate the increasingly complex smartphone, Talluri explained.

“We wanted to see if we could build deep-learning neural networks on devices you carry with you instead of in the cloud,” Talluri said. Using that approach, Qualcomm could solve certain problems surrounding the everyday use of a device.

One such problem, Talluri called the camera problem. The typical smartphone can pick up a lot of images throughout the day, from selfies to landscape shots to receipts for your expense reports. You could load every image you have into the cloud and sort them there or figure out what to do with each photo as you snap them, but cognitive computing capabilities in your phone could do much of that work and it could it could it without you telling it what to do, Talluri said.

Zeroth can train the camera not just to recognize a landscape shot from a close up. It could determine between whole classes of objects, from fruit to mountains to buildings. It can distinguish children from adults and cats from dogs, Talluri said. What the camera does with that information depends on the user’s preferences and the application.

The most basic use case would be taking better photos as it can optimize the shot for the types of objects in them. It could also populate photos with tons of useful metadata. Then you could build on that foundation with other applications. Your smartphone might recognize, for instance, that you’re taking a bunch of landscape and architecture shots in foreign locale and automatically upload them to a vacation album on Flickr. A selfie might automatically produce a Facebook post prompt.

Zeroth devices would be pre-trained to recognize certain classes of objects – right now Qualcomm has used machine learning to create about 30 categories – but the devices could continue to learn after they’re shipped, Talluri said.

With permission, it could access your contact list and scan your social media accounts, and start recognizing the faces of your friends and family in your contact list, Talluri said. Then if you were taking a picture with a bunch of people in the frame, Zeroth would recognize your friends and focus in on their faces. Zeroth already has the ability to recognize handwriting, but you could train it to recognize the particular characteristics of your script, learning for instance that in my chicken scratch, lower case “A”s often look like “O”s.

Other examples of Zeroth applications include devices that could automatically adjust their power performance to the habits of its owner or scan its surroundings sensors to determine what a user’s most likely next smartphone action might be.

Zeroth itself isn’t a separate chip or component. It’s a software architecture designed to run across the different elements of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors, so as future Snapdragon products get more powerful, Zeroth becomes more intelligent, Talluri said. We’ll discuss the Zeroth capabilities and designing software that’s smarter and based on cognitive computing with a Qualcomm executive at our Structure Data event in New York later this month.

Qualcomm plans to debut the technology in next year’s premium smartphones and tablets that uses the forthcoming the Snapdragon 820, which uses a new 64-bit CPU architecture called Kyro and was announced at MWC. But Qualcomm was already showing off basic computer vision features like handwriting and object recognition on devices using the Snapdragon 810. Many of those devices were launched at MWC and should appear in markets in the coming months.

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BlackBerry shows off affordable, touchscreen-only Leap handset

BlackBerry has launched a touchscreen-only smartphone — its first since the Z3 a year ago — called the Leap. It will be reasonably affordable at $275 off-contract when it goes on sale this April.

The handset has a five-inch display and will reportedly go on sale in Europe and Asia first. BlackBerry is pushing the security angle pretty hard on this one, no doubt as a partial reaction to efforts by the likes of Blackphone and Jolla to appeal to privacy-conscious businesses and consumers.

“Companies and everyday consumers are finding out the hard way that mobile security is paramount. BlackBerry Leap was built specifically for mobile professionals who see their smartphone device as a powerful and durable productivity tool that also safeguards sensitive communications at all times,” BlackBerry devices chief Ron Louks said in a statement.

Indeed, the company also used Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to announce the BlackBerry Experience Suite, which is actually three suites of services that will work across rival platforms including iOS, Android and Windows. Two of the bundles will cover productivity and communications and collaboration, while the third will provide encryption and privacy controls for emails and documents.

Security aside, BlackBerry is promising that the Leap can take up to 25 hours of “heavy use” before its 2,800mAh battery gives up. It has an eight-megapixel rear camera and 16GB of internal storage with extra microSD support. As with other recent BlackBerry phones, the Leap also comes with the Assistant voice-and-text command feature and two app stores, BlackBerry World and the Amazon Appstore.

According to reports of the MWC unveiling of the device, Louks also briefly held up an unnamed handset with a slide-out keyboard that will properly appear later this year.

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Zuckerberg’s Internet.org feels the love (and fear) from carriers

At Mobile World Congress on Monday Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg took the stage with three executives from carriers in developing countries to talk about the progress of Internet.org and its attempts to connect the world’s unconnected with free Facebook use.

You would expect this kind of thing to be a rather boring affair with Internet.org operators celebrating the project, and that was largely the case. But things got interesting toward the end as one CEO voiced what was on every carrier’s mind at MWC: In the process of helping them, [company]Facebook[/company] might just kill them.

That CEO was Jon Fredrik Baksaas of the Telenor Group, which may be based in Norway but runs networks in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. It’s also important to note that Telenor is not an Internet.org member, though it is in negotiations with Facebook to join its effort. Baksaas brought up the touchy topic of Facebook’s recent purchase of WhatsApp and how that messaging service directly threatens his company’s SMS revenues. It’s a “point of contention between Facebook and the operators,” Baksaas said.

He went on to say that there is a big risk that by inviting Facebook to offer free services on their networks, carriers risk Facebook converting their customers away from traditional telecom services to Facebook’s own apps and web-based services.

Zuckerberg responded that Internet.org works closely with its operator members to ensure that isn’t any cannibalization of revenue. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are not among the free services it offers through Internet.org’s zero rating policies. And the other two carrier panelists, Christian De Faria, CEO of Airtel Africa, Mario Zanotti, SVP of operations at Millicom – both of whom participate in Internet.org – pretty much backed Zuckerberg up.

Zanotti cited some impressive numbers: In Paraguay, Millicom’s Tigo saw a 30 percent increase in mobile data users after it launched free access to Facebook for six months. Millicom’s most recent foray with Internet.org in Tanzania resulted in a tenfold increase in data-capable phone sales, Zanotti said.

During the session Zuckerberg also downplayed the significance of laser-pulsing satellites and drones to Internet.org’s overall mission. He said that everyone focuses on that tech because its sexy, but the vast majority of connectivity in the developing world is going to be supplied through traditional carrier networks. That’s certainly true, but Zuckerberg did have a role in pumping up that technology in the first place, including penning a widely publicized paper on the merits of drones and free-space optics in providing internet access

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PayPal acquires Paydiant, puts NFC into its Here readers

PayPal is buying Paydiant, a startup that provides the mobile payments and loyalty technology used by many big-name retailers use in their apps, for an undisclosed amount. PayPal also announced on Monday that it plans to start selling a near-field communications (NFC)-enabled version of its Here credit card reader, which will allow its merchants to start processing Apple Pay, Google Wallet and contactless card transactions.

Paydiant is the behind-the-scenes technology used by companies like Subway and Capital One to put payment options, loyalty programs and digital coupons into their apps. But its biggest customer is MCX, a consortium of big retailers including [company]Walmart[/company], [company]Target[/company], [company]Sear[/company]s, [company]Wendy’s[/company], [company]Exxon[/company] and [company]CVS[/company] that is launching its own digital wallet called CurrenC. You’ve probably MCX’s name pop up in the news lately as its members have butted heads with Apple for turning off NFC at their registers, effectively blocking Apple Pay for some of the biggest retail stores in the country.

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I spoke briefly with PayPal’s senior director of global initiatives Anuj Nayar, who said Paydiant gives the payments giant another set of commerce tools to offer its merchants customers. While Paydiant focused on larger retailers, PayPal will be able to scale its products down to its vast network of small retailers. “We can create a digital loyalty program for the corner coffee shop,” Nayar said.

PayPal’s new NFC reader will be similar to the stand-alone point-of-sale terminal it launched in the U.K. two years ago. It has a numeric keypad with a slot for Chip-and-PIN card transactions and a Bluetooth radio to connect to a smartphone or tablet where PayPal’s Here app processes the transaction. The addition of NFC means it will accept contactless transactions from mobile wallets like [company]Apple[/company] Pay, [company]Google[/company] Wallet and eventually Samsung Pay (PayPal’s own mobile wallet doesn’t use NFC). It will also take payments from contactless credit cards popular in many countries outside the U.S., which is why PayPal first will roll out the terminal in the U.K. and Australia this summer and then launch in the U.S. later this year, Nayar said.

When it does come to the U.S., the reader will pull double duty as PayPal’s next-generation credit card reader. This year, retailers are beginning the transition to EMV cards, which use smart chips instead of magnetic stripes to transmit encrypted data at payment terminals. The familiar triangular PayPal Here reader in the U.S. accepts magnetic stripe transactions only, and I assume it will be gradually be phased out as more merchants move over to EMV payments.

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Intel, Alcatel-Lucent unveil their cloud mobile network

A year after forming their wireless partnership, Intel and Franco-American network builder Alcatel-Lucent say they’re ready to start moving the mobile network from the cell tower into the data center. At Mobile World Congress on Monday, the two took the wraps off a new networking architecture called vRAN, which looks unlike any mobile system deployed to date.

vRAN moves the baseband processing that drives the mobile network to the cloud and at its center are servers running on [company]Intel[/company] Xeon processors. [company]Alcatel-Lucent[/company] then runs many of the functions of the network as software on that server. The concept is known as Cloud-RAN, and if adopted by the mobile industry, it could fundamentally change how networks are built.

The mobile industry certainly wouldn’t be the first to embrace virtualization, but the move is a particularly fraught one for carriers because of the highly distributed way mobile networks are designed. All of the processing might – and the lion’s share of the expense – of mobile networks is at its fringes, right under the radios that transmit signals to our phones. Today carriers have to maximize the capacity of those base stations so they can handle the enormous demand for mobile data and voice at peak times.

cloud-cell-tower

Cloud-RAN (the RAN standing for radio access network) would move all that baseband processing into a centralized data center and carriers could allot capacity to cell towers as it’s needed. It’s a more efficient way to build a network, and it could result in more reliable and faster mobile service for you and I. Instead of cell sites maxing out their capacity and dropping our LTE connections, Cloud-RAN could amp up capacity at congested cell sites – you can think of it as a kind processing SWAT team wherever its needed in the network at any given time.

There are some limitations to just how “cloud” Cloud-RAN can go. You’re not going to a mobile network built on Amazon Web Services, or a central massive data center for all of the U.S. Latency is a super important consideration in the mobile network so data centers will have to be reasonably close to the towers they serve, but Alcatel-Lucent wireless CTO Michael Peeters told me that ALU and Intel have managed to push that distance put to more than 100 km (62 miles), which is enough to build a virtualized network of thousands of cells.

“You could take a city of a 1 million-population city and host the entire everything in a single central location,” Peeters said.

Even before their collaboration began, Intel and Alcatel-Lucent had been plugging away at Cloud-RAN independently for half a decade or more, as have other mobile networking companies. The difference now, said Sandra Rivera, GM of Intel’s Network Platforms Group, is the two companies now have a commercially viable product in vRAN. “The products have been developed and we’ll be doing trials this year,” she said.

Two of those trial partners, China Mobile and Telefónica, will doing live demos of vRAN at their booths. If all goes as planned, Intel and Alcatel-Lucent hope to start installing their first data centers in commercial networks in 2016.

But Intel and Alcatel-Lucent face plenty of competition. [company]Nokia[/company] announced its competing network virtualization technology called Radio Cloud, and [company]ARM[/company] is working with network semiconductor maker [company]Cavium[/company] to put its processors at the heart of a cloud mobile system. And not every vendor believes that the Intel’s vision of a network running on off-the-shelf chips is feasible for something as complex as mobile network.

In an interview at MWC, [company]Ericsson[/company] CTO Ulf Ewaldsson told me that while moving the mobile network into a data center is most definitely possible, replacing its specialized digital signal processing workhorses with generic processors isn’t. He likened the baseband to the graphics accelerator, which is still separate from the CPU of any computer or high-end mobile device today. Just like GPUs can much more efficiently render pixels than a general-purpose processor, baseband processors can much more efficiently crunch signal data than any off-the-shelf chip, Ewaldsson said.

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Qualcomm has a fingerprint ID technology that uses ultrasound

Qualcomm has developed its own fingerprint sensor for smartphones with the aim of tapping the increasing demand for biometric security on phones. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sense ID, announced on Monday at Mobile World Congress, isn’t the usual capacitive touch pad we’ve become accustomed to seeing on high-end smartphones. Instead Qualcomm is using ultrasonic waves to scan all of the ridges and wrinkles of your digits.

Why ultrasound? [company]Qualcomm[/company] says it can do a far deeper analysis than the 2D image created by a fingerprint mashed up against a capacitive sensor. It can look beyond the grime and sweat on your grubby fingers and even penetrate beneath the surface of your skin to identify unique 3D characteristics of your print. It’s the same biometric technology developed for government security applications, Qualcomm claimed.

The technology could also change the way that fingerprint scanners are implemented on devices. Since ultrasonic waves go through glass, aluminum, steel and plastic housings of any phone, it doesn’t need a dedicated touch pad or button to work. While the sensor itself is a separate element, it’s designed to work closely with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor line where all of the fingerprint data analysis is performed.

Qualcomm says it is already sampling the technology with device makers and expect it to debut in the first commercial handsets later this year.

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