Did a Billion Smartphones Really Ship Last year?

No! Sure 1.6 billion cellphones shipped last year, but only about half (840) million of them were actually “smartphones.” Another market research firm once told me that if you want to sell a lot of market studies, you have to report big numbers, and some of our competitors have done so.

Most other analysts lump the 2G voice-centric budget, 2G and 3G midrange and 3G feature phones into one category they call “feature phones”. Those analysts assume that all of the “so-called “feature phone segment” is being rapidly displaced by smartphones, which is not true. Here’s where the 840 million smartphones shipped last year and where the other 802 million “non-smartphones” shipped.

3-27-pie_chart

NVIDIA Announces First Tegra 4i Cellphone “Socket”

At MWC, NVIDIA announced shipping of its Tegra 4i LTE com-processor consisting of a version of its i500 multimode modem on the same die with its advanced GPU. The 4i is based on four Cortex-A9 (2.3-GHz) CPUs jointly developed with ARM with a fifth “battery saver” core along with 60 GPU cores.

The first announced Tegra 4i smartphone “socket” is with Wiko Mobile, said to be France’s fastest growing local phone maker.  The mid-range Wiko WAX smartphone features a 4.7″ 720p display, 8MP rear camera and LTE/HSPA+ support. Deliveries are said to begin next month.

The Tegra 4i is likely the first integrated com-processor on a single die besides Qualcomm to be shipping in a Smartphone. Note, however, that Broadcom can claim a single-die com-processor now shipping in a Samsung tablet.

It appears that LG’s G2 mini will be arriving this month destined for the Latin American market.  With a 4.7″ LCD panel and 540×960 pixels of qHD resolution, clocking in at 234ppi pixel density; it’s quite a departure from the 1080p display on the original G2. One version of the phone will be powered by a Snapdragon 400 processor; while there will also be a variant with Nvidia’s Tegra 4i system chip.

We can only wonder why that at the world’s premier wireless conference (MWC), Nvidia chose to only emphasize its new 64-bit K1 graphics engine, certainly worthy in its own right, but didn’t tout the 4i with any real fervor.

China Mobile Lists Certified LTE Thin Modems:

At MWC, China Mobile listed most, but not perhaps all, thin modems that had been certified for their network.

3-27-table

Certainly, some chipsets with application processors have also been certified, like HiSilicon’s Kirin 910, which adds a quad-core ARM processor and Mali GPU to the Balong 720 baseband.

Marvell Jumps into 64-bit Apps Processor Market

Also at MWC, Marvell introduced its first 64-bit SoC solution with the ARMADA Mobile PXA1928.  The device is said to be a single-chip quad-core A53MP 5-mode Cat 4 LTE solution supporting all global standards, including multi-radio, CSFB and VoLTE voice solutions and features the GC5000 GPU with full HD capability. With sampling slated for this month, Marvell may even beat Qualcomm to the 64-bit LTE market.

Peregrine’s UltraCMOS® Power Amp was a Stunner at MWC

Following Qualcomm’s groundbreaking LTE RF360 CMOS front end solution introduction last year, Peregrine becomes only the second LTE CMOS cellphone power amplifier provider.  Peregrine’s “Global 1 system” reconfigurable front end consists of a multimode, multiband PA, post-PA switch, antenna switch and antenna tuner. The company claims to deliver GaAs-level PA performance and also a 33% efficiency increase over other CMOS PAs (hey, there’s only one other for LTE), a level said to be reached without enhancements from envelope tracking or digital predistortion.  No shipment details have been released, so we’re waiting for news of their first smartphone “socket.”

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss
President & Principal Analyst
Forward Concepts
wis@fwdconcepts.com

Posted in Cellular, Semiconductors, Wireless | Leave a comment

Getting Ready for Mobile World Congress

The Mobile World Congress ’14 in Barcelona begins next Monday, February 24th. You can expect to be overwhelmed with news releases describing a myriad of new chips, smartphones, tablets, gadgets, software and wireless service offerings.  As the largest and most significant of all global wireless gatherings, the key benefit to both exhibitors and attendees is the networking that enables even the smallest companies to mingle with the big ones that may become their customers or even their future acquirers. Individuals will be able to scope out much of the extensive wireless ecosystem.

Some Things to Expect at MWC:

  • Nokia is expected to introduce their “forked” Android cellphone as well as new Lumia & Asha devices.
  • MediaTek will showcase their MT6595, 4G LTE octa-core smartphone SoC.
  • Broadcom will showcase their mobile innovations for LTE Category 4.
  • Intel will likely announce its first LTE cellphone modem socket.
  • Qualcomm will continue to move the goalpost with its LTE-A Cat 6 Gobi 9×35 modem (with Anritsu demo).
  • Lime Microsystems to demo its CMOS multi-standard/frequency single-chip LTE MIMO transceiver.
  • Nujira to demonstrate full Envelope Tracking efficiency chips for TD-LTE PAs.
  • Freescale will demo its small-cell base station chip offerings.

Advice for attendees:

I won’t be able to attend this MWC because of a family illness, but I can provide you with some pointers:

  • Dress appropriately. This is not CES.  Dark suits and ties are de rigueur. Anything less, you’ll stand out…the wrong way.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. The new Fira Gran Via venue is huge and you’ll do a lot of walking.
  • Since the few nearby hotels were sold out by mid-year, most of you will be arriving by train. You’ll likely have taken the Metro subway to the Plaza Espanya station where you changed to one of the trains…which are fewer and run less often than the Metro, so assume as much as a 30-minute delay between the two rail services. In addition, it’s a 3-block walk from the train to the venue (umbrella’s anyone?). Taxis and busses will be largely road-blocked by the heavy morning traffic (another 30-minute delay).
  • The Fira Gran Via has several exhibit halls which you are directed to travel between via a second-story bridge level. That requires an escalator trip up from one section, over the bridge level and down another escalator to the next hall.  That wastes a lot of time and shoe leather. The secret is to avoid the escalators when possible by staying on the exhibit floor level and walking directly to the adjacent hall (but the signs for that are not obvious).
  • Bring twice as many business cards as you were planning.  You’ll need a lot of them.

Antcor First to Market with 802.11ah IP

The growing market for IoT (Internet of Things) will be significantly enhanced by the new 802.11ah 900 MHz Wi-Fi technology and Antcor S.A. is the first out of the gate to offer a licensable solution for chip rollout. The new Wi-Fi version, operating at a lower frequency than current (2.4 & 5GHz) Wi-Fi, will have greater distance reach and is aimed at offering throughputs of 150 kbps with a 1 MHz band to as much as 40 Mbps over an 8 MHz band. The vision is that the technology will be ideal for sensor and control functions and it’s likely that chips sporting the new Wi-Fi technology will be competing with ZigBee and Z-wave in home and building automation. This offering will add to Antcor’s existing Proteus™ 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac IP portfolio.

Cirrus Logic: The Smartphone Audio Powerhouse

Last week, I was invited to visit Cirrus Logic’s audio chip development center in Mesa, Arizona that’s only a dozen blocks from my location. Although Cirrus is proud of their new headquarters in Austin, Texas, they were wise to acquire Acoustic Technologies Inc. that originally developed the impressive Mesa site. For those who don’t know, Cirrus is arguably the number one provider of noise cancelling audio chips to the smartphone market and their 2013 total audio revenue was $725 million (the general industry consensus is that Apple is their prime customer). Last week, and the reason for my visit, Cirrus introduced  the new ultra-low power CS48LV12/13 voice processors with integrated SoundClear® technology that is said to improve voice recognition accuracy in smartphones, tablets and wearables by improving voice quality, eliminating background noise and delivering clear communications in any environment.  The ultra-low power is through their own DSP engine that was originally employed in the hearing aid industry, and it appears to be “a good horse to ride.”

3iLogic-Designs Fields Speech Recognition IP Core

From an IP licensing standpoint, 3iLogic-Designs has Introduced its SimSim™ IP core, claimed to be “the world’s first, full-featured, embedded speech recognition IP core,” enabling voice-activated user interfaces for consumer devices. In a 28nm LP process, the company claims that voice activity detection of its 135K-gate design requires only 100 kHz for processing and consumes 5µW of power. Speech recognition for a 100-command vocabulary is said to require only 50MHz for processing and consumes 2.5mW of power.

Benchmarking Smartphones (Continued)

In my December newsletter, working with my colleagues at EEMBC, I shared benchmarking information on the most popular Android-based smartphones based on their free AndEBench™ benchmarking program for application processors.  This time around, we thought it would be useful to show the 10 highest performance smartphones.

Note that not a single one of these top performers is in the top 10 list of most popular devices (out of the more than 4000 devices listed on EEMBC’s website). Again, the table indicates the apps processors in those phones and their respective benchmark scores (how many times the benchmark loops in a second). Details on the methodology are on EEMBC’s website here. You can benchmark your own Android cellphone by downloading AndEBench here.

strauss_picNeedless to say, the top performance of Coolpad’s F1 smartphone is due to the MediaTek MT6592, the world’s first octa-core SoC in a mobile device. Coolpad’s “Great God F1” Smartphone based on MediaTek’s MT5692 (also an octa-core) retails in China for the amazing price of $146.  The Great God F1 runs on TD-SCDMA and GSM networks, so it won’t be marketed outside of China.  Note that Coolpad’s 8736 LTE/TD-SCDMA smartphone for China Mobile is said to be retailing in the $500 neighborhood, so don’t panic.

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss
President & Principal Analyst
Forward Concepts
wis@fwdconcepts.com

Posted in Cellular, LTE, Semiconductors, Wireless | Leave a comment

January Wireless Update

CES Comments

The main news outlets have all voiced their opinions on what was new and wonderful at the International CES conference in Las Vegas last week.  Although there’s no way that everything could be covered, the next big thing seems to be curved displays for TVs and even cellphones.  Of course, wearables like smart watches and health bracelets were everywhere.  But, CES is not always a predictor of the future.  After all, earlier CES rollouts of 3D home TVs proved to be a disaster.  But now, 4K screen resolution seems to have caught on very well.

There were huge automotive displays (and even a fully-restored 1939 Crosley…perhaps the smaller precursor to today’s Mini Cooper) but helicopter drones seemed to catch everybody’s imagination and I was particularly impressed with how far 3D printing has come…both plastic and metallic.

Via Telecom Licenses its CDMA to MediaTek

At CES, MediaTek demonstrated their single-mode LTE modem based on its acquired Coresonic DSP core.  The modem will be mated with the company’s proven 2G/3G modem later this year for a multimode solution.  When MTK rolls out its complete 4G solution, it will also include CDMA 2000 technology from Via Technologies (based on CEVA’s DSP core).

I suspect that MTK’s game plan is to emphasize the large (and better-understood) China market.  The addition of CDMA will make China Telecom happy (they are the only CDMA network in China) will carve out one market niche not served by the other LTE modem players. Sales for cellphones to Verizon and Sprint in the U.S. could follow (although LTE is their long-term focus, CDMA is necessary for complete U.S. coverage and to ease the eventual transition to LTE).

Imagination Licenses its DTV Radio to Qualcomm

Imagination Technologies, the leader in graphics IP licensing, announced that it has licensed its Ensigma Radio Processing Unit (RPU) IP to Qualcomm to be integrated in the Snapdragon 802 Ultra HD processor designed for smart TVs, set top boxes and digital media adapters from Qualcomm’s QTI subsidiary.  The Ensigma RPU performs global broadcast TV demodulation functions (for Digital TV) and will be integrated in the Snapdragon 802

Other LTE Modem Tidbits

Altair has announced that its FourGee-3100/6202 chipset has been selected to connect the new HP Chromebook 11.6″ LTE as the first affordable Chromebook with 4G LTE connectivity, and currently the only LTE-only Chromebook available. The same single-mode LTE chipset is at the core of the Ellipsis 7 tablet, the first-ever device marked under Verizon Wireless‘ own brand. Q4/13 was the company’s best quarter ever, so it’s on a roll. Altair’s FourGee-3800/6300 a Cat 4 LTE-A solution with VoLTE capability will also be introduced this quarter.

Broadcom is doubling down on its multimode LTE modem/RF solution acquired from Renesas Mobile, and apparently abandoning efforts related to its earlier-acquired Beceem LTE technology. The company is planning on a multimode thin modem running Cat 6 LTE-A with 300 Mbps downloads in mid-2014.  The modem will also have TD-SCDMA capability for China Mobile implementation.

Nvidia’s 500i LTE modem is now qualified at AT&T and Vodafone and at CES the company indicated that it would be showing its integrated Tegra 4i baseband/application processor in a branded cellphone at MWC next month.

Sequans’ VZ20Q EZLinkLTE module has been selected by Techno Source and KD Interactive, makers of the best-selling Kurio line of Android tablets for families with kids. The module is a pre-integrated, pre-tested and pre-certified solution enabling use on Verizon’s LTE network. It comprises Sequans’ Mont Blanc single-mode LTE platform baseband chip, an LTE-optimized transceiver, dual-band RF front end, memory and support chips in a single compact package.

u-blox has launched its TOBY-L2, billed as the world’s fastest 4G LTE modules with 3G & 2G fallback.  The LTE Cat 4 modules come in LGA and PCI Express format, complementing the company’s TOBY-L1 LTE-only modules. These devices are based on u-blox’ acquired CogNovo LTE modem.

ZTE has announced the WiseFone 7510 LTE modem dongle based on its ZX297502 LTE baseband chip. The baseband chip is mated with RF transceivers from Analog Devices Inc. and Advanced Circuit Pursuit AG and a power management chip from Texas Instruments.

MWC Outlook

The Mobile World Congress ’14 in Barcelona next month will be the wireless industry’s premier conference, highlighting new products and industry direction.  Qualcomm will, of course, be the dominant chip player, but we expect significant announcements from Intel and others who will be prepping to provide real completion for the big Q in 2015.

Whither Nokia?

Now that Microsoft is taking over Nokia, it’s a good time to explore Nokia’s history from its GSM “candy bar” dominance to the groundbreaking Communicator, that some argue was the first true smartphone, to the game-changing entry of the iPhone.  My colleague Majeed Ahmad has written a truly readable account of Nokia’s past and present situations.  His book, Nokia’s Smartphone Problem: The End of an Icon? delves into one strategic blunder after another to provide a detailed account of this tale of management indecision and how a comedy of errors took one of the world’s most global companies to a near-death experience. The 120-page book is available for as little as $5.99 on Amazon’s Kindle and details are available at http://prn.to/14xbLyI

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss

President & Principal Analyst
Forward Concepts
wis@fwdconcepts.com

Posted in Cellular, LTE, Networks, Telecom, Wireless | Tagged | Leave a comment

Intel Continues to Bulk Up in Wireless

Mindspeed Technologies Inc. has announced that it signed a definitive agreement to sell the assets of its wireless infrastructure business unit to Intel Corp.  Mindspeed has been a provider of network infrastructure semiconductor solutions to the communications industry, including femtocell and picocell chip sets (with ambitions to address the base station market). The company had earlier announced its sale of its non-wireless business to M/A-Com Technology Solutions Inc., so after the close of the wireless assets to Intel in February, it appears that Mindspeed will cease to exist.

Following Broadcom’s recent layoffs and re-direction of its LTE modem efforts, there has been industry speculation that Intel is also looking into the possible acquisition of Broadcom to even further accelerate its wireless market penetration.

Avago acquires LSI Logic

‘Tis the season for acquisitions. Avago Technologies Ltd. and LSI Corp. announced yesterday that Avago will acquire LSI for a reported $6.6 billion in cash.  The deal strengthens Avago’s wired and wireless infrastructure business and adds leadership enterprise storage capabilities to its product portfolio. Avago’s wireless business (primarily power amplifiers and film bulk acoustic resonators/duplexers) has accounted for about 45% of the company’s revenue, with Apple as their biggest wireless customer. The combined company is said to be strongly positioned to capitalize on the growing opportunities in data center IP and mobile data traffic and annual revenues of about $5 billion are projected.

MagnaCom Claims 20-year Leap in Digital Communications

Privately-held MagnaCom (Laguna Niguel, CA) announced that it has developed a new modulation technology that is superior to QAM (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) multi-bit coding employed in virtually all digital communication systems, wired and wireless. The patented technology is called WAM (WAve Modulation) and is said to be a drop-in replacement for QAM circuitry and does not require any changes to the analog or RF components. WAM Interfaces via the same “I/Q” Interface as QAM does today.

WAM is said to save spectrum and power, while providing increasing bandwidth, speed and distance and maintaining 100% backwards compatibility with legacy devices in use today. It modulates information differently, resulting in a major system gain benefit (e.g., up to 10dB vs. QAM4096). The inventor claims, compared to QAM, up to 50% lower power, up to 400% the distance, up to 50% spectrum savings and a major increase in speed resulting in lower cost and easier design. The company has partnered with Altera Corp. to create a demonstration platform for the upcoming International CES.

The company’s co-founder and CEO, Yossi Cohen, will host the demo. Most recently, Mr. Cohen served as Senior Vice President and General Manager at Motorola Mobility until its acquisition by Google in 2012. To arrange a meeting at CES, contact Jeremy Hyatt at +1-949-464-8926.

WAM is required at both ends of a communications link, so its initial rollout has to be for bounded applications…like microwave backhaul. It will take many years before the technology can be practical in cellular wireless.  MagnaCom does not plan to make chips, but will license the technology.

Benchmarking Cellphones

In my last newsletter, I mentioned the problem of benchmarking modems vs. benchmarking application processors. My colleagues at EEMBC have generously shared some benchmarking information on selected Android-based cellphones that they have been collecting, based on the free AndEBench™ benchmarking program for application processors.  The left bar chart below indicates the top 10 most popular phones (based on the number of user submissions of benchmark results to-date) while the right bar chart illustrates their respective CPU benchmark scores (how many times the benchmark loops in a second).  The table indicates the apps processors in each of those phones.

Will Strauss newsletter Dec 2013 graphics

 

table

Note that the Google Nexus 5 is the newest member of the group, so it had relatively few users submitting so far (even though it already made it to the top ten out of more than 4000 devices listed on EEMBC’s website), but has the highest score. Details on the methodology are on EEMBC’s website here. You can benchmark your own Android cellphone by downloading AndEBench here.

Qualcomm Targets Low End with 64-bit Quad-Core Snapdragon

Although the company is best known for introducing high-performance chips for high-end cellphones, Qualcomm has surprised the market by introducing the quad-core 64-bit LTE Snapdragon 410 modem/processor.  The company claims that the 410 is targeted at sub-$150 handsets, perhaps an early attempt to stall potential acceptance of Intel’s 64-bit Bay Trail platform in the China market.

Now that TD-LTE is rolling out in China this month, there’s no time to waste. Apple, of course, will be quickly fielding its 64-bit 5s iPhones in the China market based on Qualcomm’s LTE modems and Apple’s own A7 application processor (The iPhone 5c will also be shipping, but it’s a 32-bit machine.).  So, 64-bit cellphones will quickly provide instant bragging rights (and “face”) for status-conscious Chinese. The new 410 Snapdragon will not be shipping until Q3, but will certainly be found in several non-Apple cellphones then.

You may remember that Qualcomm originally re-engineered ARM’s V7 architecture through an architectural license (at a cost of some $300 million the company admitted) to achieve better performance and lower power than competitors using the then-popular ARM Cortex-A processor (c.2008). That redesign, updated over time, was the basis for many Qualcomm apps processors. Now, Qualcomm has licensed ARM’s V8 architecture and the new 410, however, appears to be based on “standard” Cortex A53 cores. Qualcomm’s earlier 32-bit Snapdragon 400 was also based on “standard” (Cortex A7) cores.  Both of these indicate to me that time-to-market considerations (perhaps along with better ARM performance) have convinced Qualcomm it’s no longer worth re-engineering what already works.

Since iOS is already spoken for, those new cellphones will require 64-bit cellphone operating systems, of which there seem to be no others at the moment. Likely, a 64-bit version of Android is in the works and it may be relatively easy for Microsoft to field a 64-bit version of Windows Phone 8 Mobile. That could, in theory, give a leg up for HTC, Huawei, Nokia and others that employ Wp8 Mobile.

Marvell Rolls out 4G LTE Platform for China

The first three TD-LTE modem chip suppliers qualified by China Mobile were HiSilicon, Qualcomm and Marvell; soon to be followed by Spreadtrum and NvidiaMarvell has announced that its PXA1802 modem platform will be in Yulong Coolpad’s 8736 LTE/TD-SCDMA smartphone that has been certified by China Mobile.  According to Taiwan sources, in the first quarter of 2013 Coolpad displaced Apple and Huawei to become the third largest cellphone supplier in China, following Samsung and Lenovo.  However, that third-place ranking may be short-lived, since Apple now has (TD-LTE) iPhones that can serve giant China Mobile’s newfound capability following the government award of TD-LTE licenses to all three carriers in China.  See my EETimes blog for more on TD-LTE and Apple’s expanded opportunity in China.

To address the even wider global market, Marvell just announced its PXA1088LTE Pro platform which provides both advanced multi-mode modem and quad-core ARM Cortex A7MP application processor on a single chip.  Until now, Marvell has taken out an architectural license on virtually all of its licensed ARM cores, but like Qualcomm, as mentioned above, it appears that the company has decided to license “standard” ARM cores in future products.

Imagination Expands its IP Portfolio to Include ISP and Connectivity

At CES, graphics giant Imagination Technologies will not only be showcasing its traditional video and graphics IP, but will also introduce its new PowerVR Series 2 “Raptor” scalable image signal processing architecture. Imagination claims that its new ISP is the first one designed to operate as a cooperative part of a heterogeneous computing platform for next-generation applications.

In addition, Imagination is highlighting its Ensigma division by rolling out the world’s first Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, FM combo IP (not chip).  This is a new family of Ensigma Series4 “Explorer” radio processor unit (RPU) cores.  Until now, the $4.3 billion combo chip market has been dominated by Broadcom and Texas Instruments, but now other companies can enter that market segment with IP licensed from Imagination.

u-Blox Changes LTE Direction…again

You may recall that u-Blox, the Swiss company best known for GPS modules, acquired LTE modem house CogNovo and later LTE stack house 4M Wireless.  We assumed at the time that u-Blox was aiming their newly acquired technology at M2M implementations that augmented its GPS product line.

Two months ago u-Blox indicated on their website that their LTE technology was available for licensing.  Now, the website makes no mention of licensing.  So the company has obviously changed direction.

Heterogeneous Computing also Includes DSP

Some of the newest LTE smartphone chips are combining the modem core on the same die as the application processor, also enabling the shared usage of modem’s DSP(s) for multimedia functions with the apps processor CPU and GPU cores, like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips and potentially, Broadcom’s acquired Renesas Mobile device and Nvidia’s Tegra 4i.  I expand on my opinion at RCR Wireless’ Analyst Angle.

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss
President & Principal Analyst
Forward Concepts
wis@fwdconcepts.com

Posted in Cellular, LTE, Networks, Telecom, Wireless | Leave a comment

Why Modem Emphasis (rather than Application Processors)?

Cellphone application processors are readily available from a number of chip vendors.  Most of the industry product comparisons and benchmarking emphasize application processors rather than modems.  Why?  First, ARM has really made application processor designs fairly straightforward, and even several relatively new companies in China are fielding them, too (Rockchip and Allwinner immediately come to mind). Secondly, modems, especially multimode LTE modems, are really, really tough to design. There’s no ARM equivalent engendering straightforward modem design (although wireless DSP core vendors CEVA and Tensilica would argue that point).  Essentially, you’re on your own.

So what’s so special about modems?  Well, without a modem, your cellphone would be simply a sophisticated PDA (Personal Digital Assistant).  You remember your Palm Pilot don’t you?

Since I see them as the crucial wireless components, I tend to lean toward modems (and associated RF) in my newsletter discussions of the wireless chip market. Unfortunately, benchmarking modems is far, far more difficult than benchmarking apps processors.  Apps processor benchmarks usually entail loading specialized benchmarking software and measuring execution times of various routines or functions. Wireless modems, on the other hand, require far more sophisticated equipment…with RF test equipment costing in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, it’s not something for casual bench work. Consequently, cellphone performance comparisons in the field may be the only practical way for consumers to make modem performance judgments.

RF Transceivers for LTE

Multiband LTE RF Transceivers are almost as difficult to design as multimode modems.  There have been several startups that tried and failed.  Here’s what we believe to be the current status.  If you know different, we’d love to hear from you.

LTE transceiver status

Note that others are working on LTE transceiver chip development, including Astri, Maxim, and RDA.

Skyworks Front-End Platform in new Smartphones

The SkyOne front-end platform from Skyworks Solutions integrates all RF and analog content between the transceiver and antenna.  The HTC Desire 601 and Samsung Galaxy Express 2 both include the SkyOne platform. The SkyOne is a proprietary multichip module with shielding that condenses multiband power amplifiers and high-throw switches along with all associated filtering, duplexing and control functionality into a single, compact package.  The device is said to provide the world’s best linearity and power efficiency for smart RF integration. Clearly, this module can enable even smaller smartphones.

Lattice Teams with Azcom for HetNet Solutions

Best known for its FPGA products, Lattice Semiconductor has teamed up with Azcom Technology to provide a portfolio of products that include HetNet-optimized soft IP and system-level reference designs for multimode LTE small cells.  Although Italy-based Azcom is considered one of the few sources for licensed LTE PHY IP, in this offering they are providing a complete baseband board which is a 3GPP Release 9-compliant dual-mode LTE/HSPA+ small cell baseband platform, featuring Lattice’s ECP3-70 FPGA and Azcom’s RF board which also includes a Lattice ECP3-150 FPGA for digital front end (DFE) functions along with Lime Microsystem’s LTE RF transceivers.

ZTE Chooses Freescale for Small Cell Deployment

ZTE will use Freescale’s small cell base station chips in its new line of TD-LTE femtocell products. Freescale’s BSC9132 combines two e500 RISC cores and two StarCore SC3850 DSP cores with MAPLE-B2P baseband acceleration processing elements.  Said to be complete except for an external RF transceiver, the multimode solution can process LTE-FDD/TDD and HSPA+ users simultaneously.  Interestingly, Freescale developed its own LTE PHY and higher-level stack.

M/A-COM to Acquire Mindspeed

M/A-COM Technology Solutions, a leading supplier of high performance RF, microwave, and millimeter wave products has announced plans to acquire Mindspeed Technologies, Inc. a provider of network infrastructure semiconductors for the communications industry. Mindspeed’s wireless business is not part of the acquisition. However, Mindspeed’s Communications Convergence Processing (CCP) business unit, which features its Comcerto communications convergence processors combine powerful digital signal processor (DSP) cores, acceleration co-processors and packet processing engines in a complete, system-on-chip (SoC) media processing solution with carrier-class VoIP software, expanding M/A-COM’s product portfolio.  In addition, Mindspeed’s high performance analog offerings mesh nicely with M/A-COM’s analog product line.

This presents a market expansion for M/A-COM, which is best known for its microwave and military RF components but, like Mindspeed, also plays in CATV and optical communications infrastructure.  As an East Coast company (Lowell, MA), M/A-COM should now have a strong West Coast presence with Mindspeed (Newport Beach, CA).

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss
President & Principal Analyst
Forward Concepts
wis@fwdconcepts.com

Posted in Cellular, LTE, Networks, Semiconductors, Telecom, Wireless | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

October Wireless Update

CEVA Introduces Vector Floating-Point DSP Core

Addressing the wireless infrastructure modem chip market, rather than the handset chip market, CEVA has introduced the CEVA XC4500 DSP core, which they claim to be “the world’s first vector floating-point DSP specifically designed for advanced wireless infrastructure solutions.” The new core incorporates a range of features squarely aimed at infrastructure applications, including a baseband-dedicated instruction set architecture (ISA), IEEE-compliant floating point support on full vector elements delivering up to 40 GFLOPs performance, comprehensive multi-core support, a fully cached architecture and hardware managed coherency.

Unlike wireless handsets, where asymmetric processing systems are pre-configured and optimized for specific use-cases (often employing more than one type of DSP core), wireless infrastructure typically employs Symmetric Multiprocessing (SMP) through many similar cores, which the XC4500 directly accommodates. Of course, hardware accelerators (for turbocoding, etc.) are supported by CEVA’s Tightly Coupled Extensions (TCE). It is also noted that CEVA has collaborated closely with ARM to ensure comprehensive support for their latest industry-standard interconnect and coherency protocols, enabling their mutual customers to leverage the inherent advantages of designing ARM + CEVA-XC multi-core SoCs.

CEVA asserts that the new architecture enables customers to address any wireless infrastructure use case, including baseband for small cells (Pico, Metro) to macro base stations and cloud RAN (C-RAN), Wi-Fi offloading, wireless backhaul, and remote radio heads. CEVA has already licensed the XC4500 to an un-named Tier-1 vendor, so we’ll have to guess who for now.

Qualcomm Continues as The DSP Market Leader

DSP chips from TI, Freescale, ADI, NEC and a few others constitute only about 8% of the “DSP silicon” market in revenue terms, as I have detailed in earlier newsletters. The largest market for DSP silicon is as embedded solutions, generally thought of as System on Chip (SoC) products. Of that SoC DSP market, cellphones constitute the largest segment, with baseband modem chips being the most significant.

All baseband chips consist of one or more DSP cores. Qualcomm, the clear baseband market leader, has long employed two DSP cores in each of its MSM modem chips, and of late is shipping three or more of its latest Hexagon DSP cores in its Snapdragon chips.  In calendar year 2012, Qualcomm shipped 616 million MSM (modem) chips and this year is on track to deliver over 700 million MSM chips. We estimate that an average of 2.3 of its DSP cores in each unit will result in 1.6 billion DSPs shipped in silicon in 2013. Clearly, Qualcomm continues to lead the global unit market for DSP silicon shipments.

Broadcom Licenses In-Building Location IP

Clearly, in-building GPS is getting a lot of attention these days. Many of the methods I’ve seen involve distributed Wi-Fi pilots or beacons, but Broadcom has opted to develop in-building GPS that can simply employ modifications to its current GPS/GNSS chips. To accomplish that, the company is licensing IP from NextNav LLP.  NextNav is approaching the positioning problem in two ways. To enable far more accurate E911 service in urban areas and a better degree of indoor coverage, it is fielding its own terrestrial metropolitan beacon system which operates at a much lower frequency (960 MHz) than conventional GNSS systems, providing better through-wall penetration. From a DSP standpoint, the NextNav signals simply look like another GNSS constellation. For campus, mall or warehouse implementations the company fields small NextNav Local beacons strategically located throughout the facility.

For vertical floor-level accuracy, necessary in tall buildings, Broadcom will couple barometric sensors to its GNSS chips. NextNav’s network will provide real-time weather calibration in each metro area to enable 1.5m vertical accuracy. Otherwise, daily barometric pressure changes could result in up to 200-ft errors, sending first responders to the wrong floor.  We expect Broadcom’s new GNSS solution will be shipping in cellphones by mid-2015.

Update on Renesas Mobile and Intel LTE Modems

We now know that Renesas Mobile actually secured a “Tier-1″ LTE modem socket.  Renesas’ model EOS2 (MP5232) LTE modem is said to be currently shipping in LTE versions of Samsung’s Tab 3 7.0″ tablet (for some geographic markets).  Of course, Broadcom will be the beneficiary of the socket.

It should also be noted that Intel’s XMM7160 multimode LTE modem is in cellular versions of Samsung’s Tab 3 10.0 tablet.  Samsung also has its own multimode LTE modem chip, so it’s a bit of a mystery as to how the company picks which LTE modem to use in each socket.

More Windows Phone 8 Players

Although there are a number of Android fanboys who wish Nokia would join their crowd, presently dominated by Samsung, there appears to be increasing traction building for Windows Phone 8, with Huawei, ZTE and even re-emerging HP adopting it (along with hesitant HTC).

I’ve also noticed that Apple and others have now followed Nokia’s multi-color cellphone lead, so clearly Nokia really does have new market ideas.

Nokia has also introduced a $29 cellphone, shipping this quarter. The Nokia 108 feature phone has everything you need for talking and texting, with a colorful, attractive design, a 1.8-inch color display and a VGA camera for picture and video.  It also features Nokia Slam, an app that allows you to share photos via Bluetooth with many different Android and Windows phones. True to Nokia’s multi-color trend it features several brightly colored matte plastic shells.

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss
President & Principal Analyst
Forward Concepts
wis@fwdconcepts.com

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September Wireless Update

Now that we know about Apple’s hot new iPhone 5S and the more affordable 5C, we can look back on the first week of September, which brought about a number of other significant wireless announcements:

1) Verizon buying out Vodafone’s shares of the company

2) Microsoft purchasing Nokia’s cellphone business

3) Broadcom acquiring Renesas Mobile’s LTE modem business

4) Ericsson acquiring Airvana Network Solutions’ EVDO business

5) Smart watch products debut from Samsung and Qualcomm

In addition, three wireless luminaries became associated with the launch of new chip companies:

-Dr.Sanjay Jha, former Chairman/CEO of Motorola Mobility and earlier President of Qualcomm CDMA Technologies has been named Chairman of Ineda Systems, a US/India startup developing low power SoCs for use in both consumer and enterprise applications.

-Sir Robin Saxby, founding CEO of ARM and Glenn Collinson, co-founder of CSR are to join the board of Blu Wireless, the Bristol wireless startup with a 60 GHz backhaul product for LTE small cell deployment.

Broadcom’s new LTE Modem Plan

From a wireless chip standpoint, Broadcom’s acquisition of Renesas Mobile’s LTE modem properties has to be our lead story.  It is ironic that the Renesas LTE modem was the only solution certified by 5 major carriers and could never get a cellphone socket.  Broadcom stated that Renesas Mobile really did have a tier-one socket lined up, but their parent company’s financial difficulties precluded them from completing the transaction.  That coincides with Renesas earlier statement to me at MWC that they really did have a tier-one socket that was “soon to be announced.”

Broadcom is getting a multimode 2G/3G/4G/LTE modem with RF Transceiver that is already validated at five major wireless carriers (AT&T, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Vodafone and EE). In fact, multimode LTE modems from both Renesas and Qualcomm were the only ones employed by test equipment houses for their own test and calibration for almost two years.

So the question arises: If the Renesas modem was so great, why didn’t it get into any cellphone sockets? What’s more, what makes Broadcom think that they can get the same modem into any cellphone sockets?  I don’t have the answer, but I suspect that poor marketing by Renesas had something to do with its poor showing.  Hopefully, Broadcom will be better at marketing.

If I correctly understood the CEO’s comments on the acquisition, the current LTE development effort will continue in parallel with fielding the acquired LTE product. The current LTE modem development is based on Broadcom’s earlier acquisition of Beceem and their CEVA-XC DSP-based OFDM product.  The Renesas LTE modem, developed some time ago by Nokia ASIC designers, is based on custom programmable processors, accelerators and a small ARM core for handling the low level stack.

The CEVA-XC DSP approach is apparently aimed at a superior future LTE (c.2015?), since it is a newer processor architecture and better long-term processor support by CEVA is likely (perhaps constituting a separate developer support team).

The company’s 2014 roadmap is good, with the addition of carrier aggregation, envelope tracking and TD-SCDMA, with the latter necessary to be successful in the China Mobile market.

Broadcom promises to field its acquired LTE asset in a commercial product in Q1/14.  We think that’s achievable, but it may be in a Tier-2 smartphone, since the Tier-1s seem to be spoken for at the moment. But, like Intel, they have to start somewhere if they want to take on the 800-pound gorilla of the LTE modem market.

LTE Modem Market Status

Below is my current assessment of the LTE modem market.  If you have more recent information, I’d love to hear from you.

Current LTE Modem Chip Market Status

Company Demoed Shipping Multi-mode w/RF Xceiver Status DSP Cores
Access Network Tech. yes ? yes ? Fujitsu partnership Tensilica
Altair yes yes no yes shipping in M2M, WiMAX Proprietary
Broadcom 1 yes yes, sticks yes yes former Renesas product Proprietary
Broadcom 2 yes no yes yes Beceem base: in development CEVA
Ericsson yes no yes yes (STM) in limbo ?
GCT yes yes no integrated shipping in tablets ?
HiSilicon yes yes yes ? shipping in Huawei smartphones Tensilica
Intel yes no for LTE yes yes awaiting AT&T certification Tensilica/CEVA
Marvell yes yes yes yes PXA1088 shipping as TD-SCDMA Proprietary
MediaTek no no yes, TD-LTE ? samples 4Q/13 Coresonic
Nvidia yes yes yes yes i500 shipping as TD-SCDMA Icera
Qualcomm yes yes yes yes booming business Hexagon
Samsung yes yes yes no for own smartphones CEVA
Sequans yes yes no no shipping in M2M, WiMAX VeriSilicon ZSP
Spreadtrum yes yes, sticks yes, TD-LTE yes sampling for cellphones CEVA
U-blox yes ? yes no for own M2M modules CogNovo

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss
President & Principal Analyst
Forward Concepts
wis@fwdconcepts.com

Posted in Cellular, LTE, Networks, Telecom | Leave a comment

July Wireless Update

Nokia Goes Bold with Lumia 1020

The 41MP camera is the central focus (pun intended) of Nokia’s newest smartphone, the Lumia 1020.  You may recall that I have pointed out that the smartphone is rapidly replacing the pocket digital camera… causing camera companies to now emphasize their big, and more profitable, digital SLR cameras (but they’re so 1960s in size and heft).  The Lumia 1020 optical performance easily bests some of the available dSLR cameras and virtually all of the compact cameras.

The smartphone camera trend is probably why Nikon is thinking of getting into the smartphone business. Nikon forecasts a 12% decline in the compact camera market in its current fiscal year.

I won’t go into all of the features of the Lumia 1020; you can find details and reviews all over the Web now. Needless to say, the “wow” factor that 41MP brings (and it’s implied fashion statement) coupled with superior audio, new Nokia-provided SDKs and other development tools will likely lead to a re-assessment by designers who have been afraid to stray from addressing only Android and iOS platforms.  This could be a boon to Microsoft’s efforts to bolster interest inWindows Mobile 8, as well.

As you might expect, full LTE/3G/2G capability is included (thanks to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon platform), with AT&Trolling out the first units in the U.S. next week…with worldwide availability to soon follow.

Movidius gets D-Round and Stellar Executives

Begun as a Dublin designer of compact, high-performance, ultralow power, multi-core image-processor chips.  The company’s focus has been to revolutionize computational imaging and computer vision on mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and electronic eyewear.

This month, the company announced that it had raised $16 million in D-round financing, but clearly tied to that funding was moving the headquarters to San Mateo California and the installation of new experienced executives. Dublin continues as the design center.  Remi El-Ouazzane, the company’s new CEO was recently a Vice President at Texas Instruments heading up their OMAP business unit.

The company’s new Chairman is Dan Dobberpuhl, the founder of P.A.Semi which was purchased by Apple in 2008 and said to be the brains behind Apple’s A4 and A5 application processors.  He was the lead designer for Digital Equipment Corporation’s Alpha processor and directed the company’s Palo Alto design center where the StrongARM architecture was designed. He later co-founded SiByte where he led the design of a high-performance MIPS SoC processor.Broadcom purchased SiByte for stock worth more than $2 billion in 2000.

At the funding announcement, Dobberpuhl said, “This new Movidius computational image-processing architectureopens up completely new possibilities on mobile devices that were once the realm of science fiction.”  “In the near future, high-performance applications like visual search and 3D-enabled e-commerce using smartphones and tablets with minimal battery drain are within our grasp.”  That’s pretty ambitious, but Dan’s track record makes it seem achievable.

Nvidia Shakes up Graphics Market

Realizing that the PC market is no longer growing, graphics giant Nvidia is expanding its play in the mobile market beyond supplying its worthy Tegra chips for the tablet and cellphone markets.  Last month, it announced that it willlicense its GPU cores based on its Kepler architecture, said to be the world’s most advanced, most efficient GPU.  The company plans to create a new class of licensable GPU cores that can operate in a half-watt power envelope, making it scalable from smartphones to supercomputers.  Kepler is the basis for currently shipping GeForce, Quadro and Tesla GPUs, as well as Nvidia’s next-generation Tegra 5 mobile processor code-named Logan. The company is also licensing rights to its visual computing portfolio.

Nvidia has licensed its earlier GPU cores to Sony for the Playstation 3 and also licensed its visual computing patents toIntel, so it has a business basis for the new offerings.  Nvidia will continue to make its own hardware, but licensing its GPU technology will “serve the needs of a large piece of the market,” according to an Nvidia spokesman.

Of course, this announcement has to be worrisome to the current mobile GPU licensing champ, Imagination Technologies and also to ARM for its growing Mali GPU product line. It also puts a damper on newer entrants to the market, like Vivante Corp.  Will this move bring new pricing pressure on the market or will it encourage even stronger product offerings?

Renesas Mobile exits LTE Modem Development

On June 27th, Renesas Electronics Corp. announced that it would terminate its wireless modem chip business that it acquired from Nokia in 2010 and operated through its Renesas Mobile Corp. (RMC) subsidiary. The parent company will terminate the operations by the end of December and then liquidate the business in Finland, India and China.

What is ironic is that RMC once had the only multimode LTE/3G modem alternative to Qualcomm, and most of the test equipment houses employed both the Renesas and Qualcomm chips to qualify their LTE equipment.  Moreover, Renesas’ LTE/3G modem (and RF transceiver) was shipping in USB dongles and fully qualified for both NTT DoCoMo’s and AT&T’s networks (no mean feat).

When the cash burn rate became untenable, the parent company searched months for buyers, but found no takers. It’s unclear where RMC’s worthy LTE modem IP will go, and if it’ll be available for licensing to other companies.

During the month of RMC’s founding, I met with its new President in Tokyo where I was shown an overly-ambitious business overview which stated that the company would be #1 in the cellphone chip market by 2015.  I was incredulous, but refrained from commenting. I later entered into an NDA with the company, but the RMC management never told me anything that was not already public, so that was a wasted piece of paper.

Intel and Nokia Get Cozy

In my May newsletter, I extolled the virtues of Nokia’s sub-$100 Nokia Asha 501 that runs on GSM, GPRS and EDGE networks. That family is based on Intel’s for the X-Gold223 EDGE modem (Infineon heritage) as part of the single-chipXMM2230 processor platform, which actually employs ARM (not X86) technology as part of the modem (not as an application processor, since the 501 is not a smartphone).

Now, at the beginning of this month, Nokia announced the Nokia 105, said to be a $20 phone based on Intel’s X-Gold PMB7900 which combines the baseband and RF transceiver, enabling GSM/GPRS functions, reducing to the number of ICs to 3 compared to 6 for the previous Nokia 1110. According to a teardown by IHS, the bill of materials and manufacturing costs total an estimated $14.20, allowing a reasonable profit for Nokia.

So, it appears that Nokia may have standardized on Intel’s 2G modem platforms for its third-world and entry-level phones.

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss
President & Principal Analyst
Forward Concepts
wis@fwdconcepts.com

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June Wireless Update

Intel’s New CEO Leans Mobile

Since Brian Krzanich became Intel’s new CEO, his first move was to institute a reorganization of the company, resulting in a number of quiet redundancies.  His quick second and more visible move last month was to acquire ST-Ericsson’s GPS chip product line. That’s a good sign, since many saw Krzanich as strictly a process guy rather than a market visionary. ST-Ericsson’s GNSS (global navigation satellite system) unit, based on GPS technology, employs about 130 people, mostly in the UK and Singapore. Those employees are expected to be integrated into Intel’s wireless platform unit within the chip giant’s mobile and communications group.  Although Intel has its own GPS technology, it’s possible that ST-Ericsson offered a more mature and robust solution (and the acquired talent is hard to find).

I view these moves as a clear focus by Intel on mobile per se and it’s now clear that the company wants to be more than just an X86 application processor player.  I expect more mobile chip acquisitions by Intel in the near future.

As a side note, I clearly remember when in 2003 the head of Intel’s initial Wireless Communications and Computing Group (a PC guy) pointed out that only the (XScale-based) application processor mattered, since modems were commodity devices (even though Intel was working on its own modem chip based on the “Frio” DSP core jointly developed with Analog Devices).  Success didn’t come to Intel with that prevailing attitude and the entire operation was sold off to Marvell Semiconductor in early 2004.

BTW, that Frio core has since been very successful for both Analog Devices and its licensee MediaTek.  Also, the XScale core (along with Frio) has seen success in Blackberry cellphones for some time and is also in Marvell’s new multimode LTE modem.

Comments on CTIA

The annual Cellular Technology Industry Association (CTIA) conference in Las Vegas last month was a bit of a disappointment to me after the excitement of the Mobile World Congress (MWC).  Of the hundreds of companies exhibiting, only two wireless chip vendors had booths: Freescale and Sequans…both focusing on small-cell base stations.  However, Qualcomm did have an afternoon seminar and I was able to meet with others in their hotel suites.  In its suite, Nvidia demonstrated a handset with its Tegra 4i modem/apps processor chipset operating on AT&T’s LTE network…but they had to move far out on the porch to get a signal.

Next year, the CTIA organization will fuse this conference with their legacy fall (software-centric) conference to create a newer one, MobileCon, to be held in Silicon Valley on 9/9/14.  That, they feel, will be a better balance following the January 2014 CES and February MWC conferences.

Almost no name-brand cellphone players had their own booths at CTIA, either, although a number of resellers represented several brands.  However, Pepcon’s Tuesday evening Mobile Focus table-top forum for reporters and analysts (only) had four displays by cellphone companies, with Nokia’s stand clearly the most popular of the four. Although most interest in was in the new Verizon-based Lumia 928 and the European-centric Lumia 925. Nokia’s Asha 501, the 2G cellphone for developing countries described in my last newsletter, was the most gorgeous.

It should be noted that the compelling Asha 501 is based on “Intel inside” for the X-Gold223 EDGE modem (Infineon heritage) as part of the single-chip XMM2230 processor platform, which may ultimately represent Intel’s first really high-volume Atom socket.

Texas Instruments: Small Cell Game Changer?

The bulk of the 5 million or so small-cell base stations that shipped last year have been in homes (mostly as femtocells) rather than in the enterprise or carrier markets.  One of the reasons that the enterprise market has not been more robust is because of the hassle of getting backbone signals and power through separate wiring to extended locations (Have you ever tried to find an AC power socket on a telephone pole?).

To simplify fielding small cell base stations on utility poles, or even flag poles, Texas Instruments has announced its newest chip set which is designed to employ PoE (Power over Ethernet) which provides the Ethernet backbone and primary power over a single standard Ethernet cable.  Although not very catchy names, the company’s TCI6630K2L small cell base station chip is paired with its new AFE7500 analog front end and LTE and WCDMA Base Station SoftwarePac. Coupled with required support chips (PA, PMIC, clocking, etc.) the company claims a fielded power budget well under the PoE standard limit of 25W.  Sampling is set for Q4.  Hey TI, let’s get with better product branding…it’ll be easier for market analysts to write about.

Intel Now in Android Tablets

Now that everyone has realized that Windows 8 is not the PC (or tablet) market driver that they expected, Intel has decided that maybe Android on an X86 platform will give it renewed life in both tablets and PCs. So, at Computex in Taipei this week, Intel announced that its Clover Trail+ processor will be in Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet and it also announced its “Haswell” quad-Core i7 processor in Acer’s Android PC. PC? That doesn’t sound right.

We don’t call an Apple MAC with an X86 processor a PC, so what do we call an Android platform that looks like a PC? Remember that MAC is from the original Macintosh-branded Apple computer of the ’80s that didn’t employ an Intel processor.

It should also be noted that Asus’ new Transformer Book Trio is a notebook that can be separated and used as an Android tablet and desktop PC simultaneously. It runs Windows 8 and Android simultaneously, but on two different processors.  It employs a 2.0GHz Intel Atom Z2580 processor for Android and a separate 4th-generation Core i7 for Windows 8 (and requiring a separate monitor for that mode).

Clover Trail+, however, is the first version of Intel’s Atom family that can support both Android and Windows 8, so maybe we’ll soon see more cross-gender PCs hitting the market.

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss
President & Principal Analyst
Forward Concepts
wis@fwdconcepts.com

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May Wireless Update

Intel: Third Time is a Charm (or is it the Fourth?)

How many times have we heard Intel say that its next member of the Atom processor line would finally be competitive with low-power ARM implementations? Every other year Intel carts out a new variant that will “finally” do the trick.  The next (and fourth?) iteration of the family, code named Merrifield is said to be the “turning point” for the company in mobile phones.  Although the 2012 launch of Medfield-based 3G phones came close, it didn’t put a dent in ARM’s market share. Merrifield will ship in 4Q13 and phones based on the SoC will be announced at MWC in February 2014.

But, the application processor is only part of the solution for a successful smartphone chip offering.  Multimode LTE modems and LTE RF transceivers are also necessary.  Yes, the Infineon-heritage RF transceivers have been fielded in Motorola LTE smartphones, but we’re still waiting for Intel’s multimode LTE modem.  It’s our understanding that the Infineon-heritage multimode 2G/3G/HSPA+ (based on CEVA’s DSP cores) will be married to the Blue Wonder-heritage single-mode LTE (based on Tensilica’s DSP cores). Since the software between the two is not compatible, we expect that has led to integration problems and subsequent delays.

2G: A Major Nokia Thrust @ sub-$100

In the U.S. all eyes are on the latest and hottest LTE smartphones, and little notice is given to products serving the rest of the world.  At the high end, this week Nokia is beginning shipments of its Lumia 928 for Verizon in the U.S. and announcing its Lumia 925 for T-Mobile and the rest of the world. The mainstream press is busy comparing them to iPhone5, GalaxyS4 and HTC One, so I’ll skip the details on them.

But, with as many as 1.8 billion people forecast to remain connected to GSM networks over the next five years in the developing world, there’s another big market to be served. That 2G market segment is one in which Nokia has long held a dominant share, even when its smartphone fortunes took a nosedive…from which it is now slowly recovering.

Nokia has long served the 2G market and it’s now made a major product line introduction in order to increase its standing in the developing world. The new sub-$100 Nokia Asha 501 looks like a smartphone and offers many smartphone features, but it runs on GSM and GPRS networks. Sure, there are sub-$70 feature phones on the market, but they don’t match the features of the Asha 501.

The 3-inch QVGA color touch screen provides enough visual excitement even for the slower networks.  And like most smartphones, it offers a camera (3.2MP), USB (2.0), Bluetooth (3.0), Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), FM radio and even a MicroSD memory card slot (4GB card included). And the Asha 501 offers cellular network positioning through Nokia’s basic mapping service and provides a faux multitasking interface.

The device also features interchangeable casings, available in a choice of several colors including its striking bright green (my favorite) and bright red colors.  I suspect that it won’t be long before knockoff casings become available like the colorful shell feeding frenzy that once served Nokia’s early candybar phones about a decade ago.

Nokia has accomplished this feat of providing smartphone features for the developing world by bypassing traditional operating systems, i.e., no Android, Windows or even its own Symbian.  Instead, it employs the 501 is running an OS that Nokia has dubbed the “Asha software platform.” The company is cagey about its pedigree, but that OS may be a blend Nokia’s Series 40 OS employed in its feature phones and the Mimiria OS that came with Nokia’s acquisition last year of Norway-based Smarterphone, a software development company.

Shipments of the Asha 501 will begin next month for subscribers in Africa, India, Indonesia and other developing countries.

Samsung’s “5G Radio”

This week, Samsung announced what it terms a breakthrough in wireless transmission speeds through its “adaptive array transceiver” technology that delivers what it calls fifth generation speeds of “up to several hundred times faster” than today’s 4G networks.  The company employed 64 antenna elements transmitting data at 1.06 Gbps at a frequency of 28 GHz for up to 2 kilometers.

Although the 2 km distance is impressive, the data rate reminds me of the ill-fated UWB (Ultra-BroadBand) radio market.  My count of surviving UWB radio chip houses is zero. Besides, at 28 GHz, precipitation in the form of fog, rain, snow, hail or even grauple (something I’ve occasionally encountered during backpacking in Arizona and Colorado) severely attenuates the signal, limiting its reach.  Most Satellite TV users have encountered signal fading of their lower-frequency (Ku band: 12-18 GHz) signals during a rainstorm, while the older C band (4-8 GHz) fares better, but nobody but cable company hubs want those huge dishes in their yard.  Oh yes, there’s still the 60 GHz radio crowd still getting started, but their focus is on 10m+ transmission distances for in-house TV relays, etc.

Samsung expects to commercialize the new 5G technology by 2020, but color me skeptical.

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss
President & Principal Analyst
Forward Concepts
wis@fwdconcepts.com

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