Love them or loathe them (and I’m still not convinced), fingerprint sensors are becoming ubiquitous on mobile phones no matter the operating system. And mobile processor manufacturer Qualcomm just made an announcement that should make them even more popular.

Over at Mobile World Congress this morning, Qualcomm just announced Sense ID, a biometric scanner designed for use with its popular chipsets for securing your phone without passwords.

Unlike most mobile scanners, which use capacitive technology to read the pattern of your fingerprint’s arches, whorls and loops, Sense ID is based around an ultrasonic transmitter. What that means, says Qualcomm president Derek Aberle, is that it images in 3D and – most excitingly – can see through materials like plastic and even metal. That means manufacturers can be creative in their designs to accommodate a Sense ID reader, and it shouldn’t be confused by grease or dirt either.

WiFi-LTE hybrids are cure for data connectivity in developing world

Aberle also announced Qualcomm’s first small cell system on a chip for LTE-U, or LTE Unlicensed. This addresses the issue of spectrum shortages for high speed data common throughout the world, by using the unlicensed 5GHz band – currently used by WiFi technologies – for LTE mobile data. While the WiFi Spectrum Alliance has previously expressed concerns about interference, Aberle says the company will be demoing LTE-U later today at MWC, operating at three times the speed of WiFi without crossing the signals.

We’ll try and see that in action as soon as possible.

LTE-U has implications for countries like South Africa where LTE spectrum is scarce, but at the moment Qualcomm expects the first customers to be in the US, and Verizon should have base stations operational by the end of the year.

Of more immediate interest, Aberle said that Qualcomm is also looking to bring together all the modem technology on its chips into a single virtual service which will allow phones to switch between an LTE or voice connection and WiFi seamlessly. What that means is that if you happen to be near a free WiFi hotspot from Project Isizwe or MWEB, for example, your voice call can switch between the mobile network and the WFi network for voice calls.

Brain in a jar

Your phone is also about to get a lot cleverer, too. Aberle also announced a new technology that the firm has been working on called Zeroth. Described as “cognitive computing”, this is basically a software suite that allows your phone to learn from and adapt to your behaviour – a sort of IBM Watson-lite.

Qualcomm’s Raj Telluri demonstrated Zeroth’s facial recognition abilities and a camera app that can identify scene elements like buildings, people or fruits and set your snapper up accordingly.

[Image – CC by 3.0/Frettie]
Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar, Wired.co.uk, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.