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Altair Semiconductor finds a place among mobile innovators

Six-year-old LTE chipmaker focuses on low-cost tablets, LTE modems

March 1, 2012 07:21 AM ET

Computerworld - BARCELONA -- Altair Semiconductor, based in Israel, is a smaller company that showed off its LTE radio chips -- and the tablets and routers they're being installed in -- at a small booth at Mobile World Congress this week.

Among the thousands of companies exhibiting at the event here, Altair is a prime example of the energy being demonstrated globally by newer innovators in mobile and wireless technologies.

CEO Oded Melamed said the six-year-old company, which has about 150 employees, is focused on providing its LTE technology to users in developing countries such as India, Brazil, China and Russia. That's where low-cost broadband modems and related devices are expected to be in great demand as their populations explode.

Altair chose to keep its chips focused on LTE-only rather than pairing them with 3G radios, as many other manufacturers do. That can lower costs, and makes it possible to reduce the size of the chip, to 6mm square -- two to three times smaller and cheaper than competing chips, Melamed said.

An LTE-to-Wi-Fi router in a home could soon sell for $50, half the price of today, he said in an interview.

Melamed also showed off a small sub-$100 tablet running over Altair's LTE chip from a maker called Ainol. The 7-in. Ainol tablet is called the Novo 7, sells in China and runs Android 4.0.

In all, Altair has 16 customers making 50 devices, including in-home LTE modems, a 10-in. tablet by Quanta, an HD-camera that can be mounted on a race car to run over LTE and feed data to the race pit, and outdoor LTE routers to provide broadband Internet access at home. That router offers enhanced antennas and a rugged case to withstand the weather.

Melamed admitted his company's goal is less about bridging the digital divide in developing countries and more about taking advantage of the enormous opportunities in places such as India. It has more than 1 billion people, but only 120 million Internet users. Of those with Internet, only 30 million could be described as having broadband, with speeds of up to 300Kbps, he said.

Altair is an example of a many smaller tech firms fighting giants such as Qualcomm. But Altair is on the verge of a major growth spurt, Melamed predicted.

"We are six years old, like a child going to first grade in school, excited to make a big move up," he said.

covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at Twitter @matthamblen or subscribe to Hamblen RSSMatt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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