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Qualcomm introduces small low-power NFC chip

Thursday 13 December 2012

Qualcomm Atheros, a subsidiary of Qualcomm, introduces a new ultra-low power NFC solution that will enable mobile devices with contactless communications and data exchange, including next-generation mobile payments. Qualcomm says its QCA1990 is the industry’s smallest, ultra-low power system-on-chip (SoC) with an overall footprint that is 50% smaller than current NFC chips available in the market. When paired with Qualcomm Atheros’ WCN3680 1-stream, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi/Bluetooth 4.0/FM chip, the QCA1990 will enable seamless user experiences in the mobile, computing and consumer electronics markets.


The QCA1990 offers platform-level integration with the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 and next-generation processors and modems to enable NFC on Qualcomm’s OEM partner smartphones and tablets. The QCA1990 software stack complies with the NFC Forum Controller Interface (NCI) and is integrated to enable faster time-to-market for customers. Its radio frequency (RF) complies with requirements established by EMVCo and the NFC Forum. Qualcomm claims its supported antenna form factors are eight times smaller than current market offerings, allowing QCA1990 offers significant cost savings for OEMs to integrate NFC at a significantly lower price point.


The QCA1990 employs low-power polling algorithms to prolong battery life. The QCA1990 also offers a wide range of secure element options, both embedded and SIM-based, while supporting multiple secure elements concurrently, including support for a dual-SIM configuration.


The QCA1990 is pre-tested to meet the requirements from payment schemes, mobile operators and OEMs globally. The QCA1990 will sample to customers starting in Q1/2013, with commercial designs with leading OEMs expected in Q3/2013.

Qualcomm, which recently joined the NFC Forum Board of Directors, positions itself as the world leader in 3G, 4G and next-generation wireless technologies. With this move the company joins longstanding suppliers of NFC chips NXP Semiconductors and Inside Secure. The NFC chip offer arena is also populated with STMicroelectronics, Samsung Semiconductor and Renesas Electronics.


According to analysts, Qualcomm strongest point is its dominant position on the baseband processor market, and its ability to combine multiple functions into one chip; for instance, Qualcomm has been able recently to gain marketshare on the WIFI - Bluetooth combined chip market. Qualcomm is expected to position itself as a global supplier of chips for all functions in a handset, thus simplifying integration for handset developers, however, the company has not yet announced any offer for secure microprocessors, such as SIMs or Secure Elements, as it lacks so far the longstanding experience the market leaders have accrued.