Qualcomm bringing LTE connectivity to wearables with new Wear platform

With LTE connectivity, Qualcomm is trying to break the pattern of tethering wearables with smartphones

Person with a smartwatch

Wearables today are overwhelmingly tethered to smartwatches. Qualcomm wants to change that by bringing LTE connectivity to wearables with its new Snapdragon Wear platform.

With the Wear platform, Qualcomm wants to drive the development of sleek wearables like smartwatches, smartbands and smartglasses that offer long battery life. With Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and LTE, Qualcomm is enabling more ways for wearables to connect and transfer data over the Internet, other than using the smartphone as an interface.

At the core of the new wearable platform, available now, is the Wear 2100 chip to which an LTE module can be attached. It is the first in a new family of chips the company will release for wearables.

LG Electronics said it would launch smartwatches and other wearables with the Wear 2100 chip by year end. LG last year announced the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE, but scrapped the product due to hardware issues. That product could be launched with the Wear 2100 this year.

There are already wearables with cellular connectivity, but most have 2G/3G connectivity. LTE modems tend to be power hungry, and using the 2G/3G network is a more power-efficient way to transfer data using a cellular connection.

But Qualcomm over time has reduced the size of its LTE modems while making them more power efficient. The chip maker is now confident it can pack an LTE modem into a wearable like a smartwatch without hurting battery life.

Several smartwatches with Android Wear already use Qualcomm chips. The Qualcomm Wear platform will also include software tools and reference designs for customers to develop devices.

The Wear 2100 chip is a smaller version of the Snapdragon 400 chip, which is currently used in smartphones. It is also more power-efficient, which could allow for longer battery life.

The chip has a sensor hub and algorithms so it can process data on the device before it is sent to the cloud. The on-board intelligence could help limit the amount of data sent over a cellular network, which could preserve battery life in a wearable.

Qualcomm is following the path of Intel and MIPS, which are offering developer boards for wearables. Intel's Edison and Curie modules have been used in smartwatches, fabrics, helmets and other wearables, while MIPS offers the small Creator boards for enthusiasts to make wearables at homes.

Note: The seventh paragraph of this story has been corrected because it overstated the number of smartwatches available with Android Wear. 

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