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Pocket strokers will barely feel Qualcomm's new tiny bonk chip

40nm NFC tech easy on batteries, case sizes

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Qualcomm's Atheros subsidiary has come up trumps again: this time in the form of a tiny NFC chip designed to use less power when transferring data over the airwaves.

The snappily monikered QCA1990 is about half the size of existing NFC chips, and uses a 40nm fabrication process to significantly reduce the power needed. This process size sounds chunky compared to the 22nm and 14nm features in modern processor chips, but it's teeny for radio communications electronics.

NFC is best used for bonking against tills and mobes to exchange data. Chips supporting the wireless standard have to be able to take power from a coil in the receiver in order to work when the battery dies, so a reduced power requirement means a smaller antenna which makes for easier assembly as well as less material, all to the benefit of NFC handsets.

The Qualcomm chip is, unsurprisingly, designed to integrate with the company's Snapdragon processor which is powering the majority of smartphones these days. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are already squeezed into the Snapdragon die, but NFC needs to be bolted onto the side - hence the need for the QCA1990.

Existing NFC radios come from companies such as Inside Secure and NXP, but STMicroelectronics, Samsung and Texas Instruments have all talked about getting into the business so the early players were never going to be lonely for long, and there's still a gap in the market making secure elements.

Qualcomm's chip has two Single Wire Protocol interfaces, so is able to support one secure element in the SIM (as preferred by the network operators) and one in the phone (preferred by the manufacturers), or perhaps in a removable memory card (preferred by the banks, but not going to happen), but not one coming from Qualcomm, not yet. ®

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