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Sony Spends $212M on Altair to Make Sensors More Talkative

January 26, 2016, 10:30 AM UTC
Sony corporation president and CEO Kazuo Hirai speaks at the company's headquarters in Tokyo on November 18, 2014. Hirai was attending the "Sony IR (Investor Relations) Day 2014" meeting. AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by Toshifumi Kitamura — AFP/Getty Images

Sony has stepped up its Internet-of-things and wearables game with the $212 million purchase of Israeli connectivity company Altair Semiconductor.

Altair makes chips and software using the 4G mobile broadband standard known as LTE, and Sony said Tuesday it was particularly interested in the low power consumption and high performance of those products.

The Internet of things involves putting communications capabilities into millions of sensors that provides readouts on temperature, motion and so on. Some are plugged in, but many aren’t, and no-one wants to be changing or recharging batteries in these things all the time. Power consumption is a major concern.

This is particularly relevant when talking about LTE, which allows speedy and voluminous data transfers for phones, but can be quite draining. Companies such as Altair and rival Sequans are currently pushing chipsets using a lightweight version called LTE Category-1, which helps makers of low-power devices move past the old-school 2G tech their products have often been using to communicate.

Altair claims its chipsets can enable battery life of up to a decade.

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Sony said it doesn’t only want to grow Altair’s business, but also to combine its tech with Sony’s sensors to “develop a new breed of cellular-connected, sensing component devices.” As Sony specifically brought up examples such as its navigation and imaging sensors, it seems likely that the Altair buy will help shore up the components it provides for connected cars, for one thing.

It also mentioned wearables, where it clearly wants to be providing more components.

The Japanese firm is very bullish on its sensor business at the moment, having shelled out $155 million for Toshiba’s imaging sensor division late last year. Around the same time, it also announced plans to set up the Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation to focus on sensors, mainly of the imaging variety — that reorganization will come into effect at the start of April.

Altair, which is headquartered in Israel, also has subsidiaries in China and Taiwan, with a total headcount of around 220. Sony expects the deal to close early next month.