Going under the hood of Qualcomm Snapdragon 855: plenty to like

More details of Qualcomm’s first 5G chipset have been released, bringing all-round improvements, and a 5G chipset for PCs was also announced.

On the first day of its annual Snapdragon Technology Summit, Qualcomm announced its 5G chipset for mobile devices, the Snapdragon 855, but released limited specs. On the following two days more details were disclosed. An SoC for 5G-connected PCs, the Snapdragon 8cx was also unveiled.

In addition to the X50 modem for 5G connectivity (on both mmWave and sub-6GHz frequencies) and X24 modem (to provide LTE connectivity), at the centre of the Snapdragon 855 is ARM’s new flagship Cortex A76 CPU, marketed by Qualcomm as Kryo 485. It contains 8 cores with the single core top performance at 2.84 GHz. Qualcomm claims the 855 is 45% faster than its predecessor 845, though it did not specify what exactly this refers to. More importantly for Qualcomm, the top speed is 9% faster than the Kirin 980 from HiSilicon (a Huawei subsidiary), another 7-nanometre implementation of the ARM Cortex A76.

Also included in the 855 is the new Adreno 640 GPU rendering graphics. Qualcomm has focused 855’s marketing messages on gaming performance, and the GPU is at the core to deliver it. Qualcomm claims the new GPU will enable true HDR gaming, as well as support the HDR10+ and Dolby Vision formats. Together with the display IP, the Adreno 640 GPU will support 120fps gaming as well as smooth 8K 360-degree video playback. Another feature highlighted is the support for Physically Based Rendering in graphics, which will help improve VR and AR experience, including more accurate lighting physics and material interactions, for example more life-like surface texture, or material-on-material audio interaction.

The key new feature on Snapdragon’s Hexagon 690 DSP is that it now includes a dedicated Machine Learning (ML) inferencing engine in the new “tensor accelerator”. The Hexagon 690 also doubles the number of HVX vector pipelines over its predecessors the Hexagon 680 and 685, to include four 1024b vector pipelines. The doubled computing power and the dedicated ML engine combined are expected to improve the Snapdragon 855’s AI capability by a big margin.

The integrated new Spectra 380 image signalling processor (ISP) will both improve the Snapdragon’s capability to deepen acceleration and to save power consumption when processing images. Qualcomm believes the new ISP will only consume a quarter of the power as its predecessor for image object classification, object segmentation, depth sensing (at 60 FPS), augmented reality body tracking, and image stabilisation.

On the OEM collaboration side, in addition to Samsung, on day 2 of the event we also saw Pete Lau, the CEO of Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus come to the stage to endorse the new 5G chipset and vow to be the “first to feature” the Snapdragon 855. Separately, the British mobile operator EE announced that it will range a OnePlus 5G smartphone in the first half of 2019.

On the same day, thousands of miles away, more Chinese smartphone OEMs including Xiaomi, OPPO, Vivo, and ZTE (in addition to OnePlus) also embraced the new Snapdragon chipset at the China Mobile Global Partner Conference in Guangzhou, southern China. China Mobile will also launch a customer premise equipment (CPE), likely a fixed wireless access modem, using the same platform.

Back in Hawaii, on day 3 of the Snapdragon Tech Summit, Qualcomm launched a new chipset for PC: the Snapdragon 8cx (“c” for computer, “x” for eXtreme). This is Qualcomm’s third iteration of chipset for PC, built on ARM v8.1 (a variant of Cortex A76). Similar to the Snapdragon 855, the 8cx also has the X24 integrated cellular modem with for LTE connectivity, and the X50 modem with 5G connectivity can be paired with it. The CPU also has eight cores, with a top speed of 2.75 GHz. The new Adreno 680 GPU is said to process graphics twice as fast as the GPU in the previous generation ARM for Windows chipset (Snapdragon 850) but 60% more efficient in power consumption.

Perhaps the most meaningful change is its memory architecture. The Snapdragon 8cx will have a 128-bit wide interface, enabling it to provide native support for much more software and applications, including Windows 10 Enterprise and Office 365, which clearly is a sales pitch to the corporate IT departments.

Unlike the OEM support garnered by Snapdragon 855, there was no public endorsement by PC makers yet. Lenovo did come to the stage but was only talking about its Yoga 2-in-1 notebooks that have used earlier generations of Snapdragon chipsets for Windows on ARM. On the other hand, Qualcomm does not position Snapdragon 8cx as a replacement for the 850 but rather as a higher end contemporary, with 850 mainly targeted at a niche consumer market.

In general, this year’s Snapdragon Tech Summit has delivered more step change with the new product launches. More concrete industry support was also on show, indicating that, depending on how fast and extensive 5G is to be rolled out, we may start seeing true 5G smartphones in the first half of next year. We may need to wait a bit longer before a reasonable line-up of always-on 5G connected PCs can hit the market.

Nokia gets a bunch more cash from Chinese operators

Nokia is so keen for everyone to know how well it’s doing in China that is it makes an announcement every time it wins some business.

Earlier this year we heard all about a ‘framework agreement’ signed with China mobile that was worth around €1 billion. Today Nokia has announced some more ‘frame agreements’, which are presumably the same thing and refer to a kind of pre-contract that amounts to a formal commitment to do a bunch of business in future.

This time we’re talking €2 billion, but split between all three Chinese MNOs – China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. Presumably the China Mobile bit is fresh cash, not just a recycling of the previous bil. The agreements cover delivery for the next year or so of radio, fixed access, IP routing and optical transport equipment, as well as some SDN and NFV goodness. Nokia is excited by all this transitioning and leveraging.

“We are excited to continue our close collaboration with these important customers in China, to drive new levels of network performance as they transition toward 5G,” said Mike Wang, president of Nokia Shanghai Bell. “Leveraging the breadth of our end-to-end network and services capabilities, we will work closely with China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom to deploy technologies that meet their specific business needs.”

It wouldn’t be surprising to see some kind of equivalent announcement by Ericsson before long as the two Nordic kit vendors clearly like to compete over this sort of thing. Not long after its first China Mobile announcement Nokia said it was getting £3.5 billion from T-Mobile US to help out with 5G. Within a few weeks Ericsson had countered with an almost identical announcement of its own.

Here launches interactive Traffic Dashboard

Digital mapping company Here has launched a new product designed to let users plan their urban journeys based on real-time traffic congestion information.

It’s called Traffic Dashboard and it not only reports existing congestion and traffic incidents, but anticipated ones too. It has been launched ahead of ITS World Congress and, to be honest, it looks like a bit of a gimmick to generate some coverage and little more, so job done there then,

“Nobody likes to be in traffic,” informed Helmuth Ritzer, VP of Connected Vehicle Services at Here. “But nobody alone can solve the problems it causes. For this we need more collaboration between the public and the private sectors to offer better services. With the Here Traffic Dashboard we provide insights into the vast amount of traffic information – from real-time to historical traffic data to sophisticated traffic analytics – that we can provide drivers, cities and businesses for more informed decision making.”

Here was once known as Navteq until Nokia bought it for $8 billion back in 2007 because it figured mapping would be quite important for smartphones. It wasn’t wrong but the ubiquity of Android and Google Maps scuppered that bight idea and it ended up flogging its mapping business to a consortium of German car makers for just $3 billion. You can check out the Dashboard below.

Elsewhere in the car tech world Qualcomm has announced the latest product of its relationship with China Mobile. This took the form of some LTE-V2X roadside units that are designed to help with safety, traffic, autonomous driving and that sort of thing. It uses the 5.9 GHz band and is compliant with the appropriate 3GPP standards for vehicle IoT.

“With the prosperity of ITS, connected vehicles demand communication with lower latency, higher reliability and wider bandwidth,” said Chenguang Wei, Deputy GM of China Mobile Research Institute. “We are pleased to see the RSUs that were developed with CMIoT deployed as a part of a pilot project in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, and are looking forward in to continuing to work with CMIoT and Qualcomm Technologies to help drive the maturity of the technology in the industry and in China.”

China Mobile adds 18mn mobile subs in first half – and that’s not a typo

China Mobile has reported its numbers for the first half, with the ridiculous figures just demonstrating how much potential there is for those who can crack the Great Firewall of China.

Total revenues stood at roughly $57 billion for the first six months of the year, a 2.9% year-on-year increase, while service revenues accounted for approximately $52 billion of that total. Amazingly, the company also saw net adds of 18.61 million mobile customers over the period, 27.32 million of which were 4G subscriptions. The total subscription base has now exceeded 900 million, with 4G penetration now standing at 74.7%.

“In the first half of 2018, market competition has intensified and cross-sector convergence has increased pace,” said China Mobile Chairman Shang Bing.

“At the same time, operators were required to take further actions operationally to comply with the state policy of ‘speed upgrade and tariff reduction’. Faced with this complex environment, across the China Mobile business, we closely adhered to the ‘Big Connectivity’ strategy and took considered moves to proactively tackle both market competition and other emerging challenges, launching various initiatives for the personal mobile, household, corporate and emerging businesses.”

“There was further integration of these four important growth engines, and at the same time a step-up in our reforms and enhancements to our management efficiency. Thanks to these collective and coordinated efforts, we have maneuverer along the course of our development and maintained satisfactory growth in our financial performance.”

On the network side of things, the team added an eye-watering 190,000 4G base stations to the landscape over the first six months, while future projects will continue to focus on improving in-door coverage across the country. Not only is the infrastructure investment required for the challenges of tomorrow’s 5G world, China Mobile also noted today’s market is becoming increasingly competitive as a new wave of high-data, low-cost tariffs hit the market.

In response, the team ‘activated tariff elasticity’ to meet customer demands and reduce subscription churn, while also creating a new tariff structure which leans on the increase data usage. Finally, the team improved the depth of its content offerings. With these three pillars in place, total handset data traffic increased by 153% across the six months.

Looking at the home broadband business, this is also heading north. The total number of subscribers now stands at 18.8 million with the team collecting more than 57% of the industry’s net additions across the half. The total number of broadband subscribers in China is now 128 million. While this is an incredible number, estimates put the total number of households in the country at around 450 million. The room for growth is astronomical.

When talking about the footprint and subscriber base China Mobile has, it is almost comical.

Nokia inks €1 billion framework agreement with China Mobile

A new agreement, valued at €1 billion ($1.17 billion, £0.88 billion), has been signed that covers the delivery of Nokia products and services to China Mobile throughout 2018.

The signing took place in Berlin during the fifth iteration of the inter-governmental economic forum between Germany and China, starring the German Chancellor Angela Markel and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. This capped a busy week for Nokia’s business updates with China, during which time it also signed MoUs to set up joint labs with Tencent and China Mobile respectively.

Nokia was already one of the key vendors in China when the first its mobile telecom networks were rolled out there in the late 20th century. However, it was only recently, after it bought Siemens out of their joint-venture, then acquired Alcatel-Lucent including the legendary Bell Labs, did Nokia become a credible end-to-end supplier. In this new agreement Nokia’s supplies to China Mobile will include the full range of equipment and services from access, backbone, transport, to network management.

Mike Wang, President of Nokia Shanghai Bell, which will be the front-end implementation entity with China Mobile, saw this agreement “highly significant”, consolidating “Nokia’s position as a leading provider of next-generation technologies and services in China.” Chinese companies are much more aggressive in rolling out 5G in scale than their Western European counterparts.

Nokia’s tour of China continues with China Mobile 5G AI partnership

Nokia has expanded its relationship with the world’s largest mobile operator China Mobile to jointly develop artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capability on 5G.

It has been busy days at Nokia. One day after its collaboration with Tencent was announced, Nokia’s new R&D related MOU in China is focused on AI and machine learning in 5G environment, and this time the joint lab will be located in Hangzhou, east China. China Mobile will define use cases as well as standardise the open APIs for third party partners, while Nokia will develop and verify demo solutions using its 5G technologies including its Cloud RAN and open edge server.

China is aiming to lead the world’s AI industry. A national strategy for AI was developed in July 2017, which was followed by a working level conference at the end of year. A policy paper was published earlier this year, providing guidelines to industries and businesses on how to advance China’s AI capabilities in the years to come. As one of the largest state-owned enterprises (SOEs), China Mobile shoulders the expectations to lead the charge. Tying this R&D partnership with Nokia will help.

This is also a good move by Nokia, not the least because of the importance of market, and the level of investment expected out of China into AI and machine learning using the 5G technologies. What Nokia will take away from the partnership will potentially help enhance its capabilities when meeting other customers.

But here is the catch. Machines learn by being fed with large amount of data. However, no operators in the world, China Mobile included, can guarantee their data accurately reflect what is happening on the networks. The margin of errors varies, some operators’ data is up to 40 per cent off the mark, by their own admission. Which will seriously compromise the intelligence generated artificially.

IoT platform initiatives start to ramp

Ericsson, Qualcomm and Microsoft have all announced initiatives designed to move the whole internet of things thing along a bit.

At MWC Shanghai Ericsson and China Mobile (pictured) signed a cooperation agreement for the latter to use the former’s Device Connection Platform to augment its IoT efforts.

“Ericsson is a global leader in IoT with solid cooperation with operators’ associations GMA and Bridge (Association), providing connecting services for nearly 30 operators in over 100 countries and markets, and accumulating rich technical experience and industry resources in the field of IoT,” said Qiao Hui, GM of the China Mobile IoT Company.

“By launching DCP, we will be able to solve unified connection management and roaming across borders for our international customers, while at the same time share business opportunities in the global IoT market, which will further drive the expansion of IoT business overseas for China Mobile, and improve our market competitiveness in this field.”

Qualcomm, meanwhile, is claiming the world’s first commercial IoT development platform supporting field upgrade to LTE IoT. This also seems to involve China Mobile, which seems to be having a busy time of it at MWC Shanghai, a company called Gizwits, which specialises in IoT development platforms, and manufacturer Quectel.

“The expansion of the IoT depends on the ecosystem’s ability to deliver vast amounts of solutions featuring edge intelligence and flexible connectivity that stays current through the device life,” said Serge Willenegger, GM, 4G/5G and Industrial IoT at Qualcomm. “We are grateful of the opportunity to work with Gizwits, China Mobile Shandong Branch and Quectel.”

“The IoT enabling infrastructure is rapidly evolving,” said Jack Huang, CEO of Gizwits. “A challenge during this growing process for developers and manufacturers is the concern that the products they deliver today may not work well in tomorrow’s environment.

“For example, telecommunication operators throughout the world are phasing out 2G networks, leaving manufacturers with the tough choices of either sticking with the 2G modem technology that has worked well but may not be supported in the near future, or switching to LTE technologies, such as NB-IoT or eMTC, with limited network coverage in many regions.”

“The path of the IoT ecosystem toward 5G goes through LTE IoT, including the NB-IoT mode,” said Yong Chen, GM of enterprise business, China Mobile Shandong Branch. “Qualcomm Technologies and Gizwits are collaborating to help our customers get ready for the future as we deploy the latest cellular technologies across our network infrastructure.”

Lastly Microsoft has announced the general availability of Azure IoT Edge, its cloud platform for IoT devices. “Today, we are excited to announce Azure IoT Edge is now generally available (GA) globally – enabling our growing list of enterprise customers to bring their edge solutions to production,” blogged Microsoft’s Sam George.

“We are also introducing new robust capabilities on Azure IoT Edge to easily develop and deploy intelligence to the edge. These robust updates position Azure IoT Edge as a true end-to-end solution for enterprise-grade edge deployments.”

As 5G inches closer to reality, the industry seems to be getting real about IoT too. All three of these announcements seem to be concrete steps towards providing substantial IoT services to the market and China is looking like a major driver of that activity.

World’s biggest MNO grows again

China Mobile has reported its numbers for the quarter ending March 31, and surprise surprise, it has grown even bigger once again.

Total revenues for the quarter stood at roughly $29 billion, up 0.8%, while profits rose 4% to just over $5 billion. Compared to the same period in 2017, an additional 11.34 million subscribers were brought into the fold, taking the total to 899 million of which 672 million are 4G, while ARPU rose to $8.83 from $7.83.

It always useful to have a point of comparison every now and then, so just to put things in perspective, in the UK O2 has the largest market share which is 30 million subscribers. The population of the UK is roughly 65 million, while it is roughly 740 million for Europe. China is pretty big.

Data traffic is also on the up, a 139% increase year-on-year, while the voice business continued with its downward trajectory with total voice usage (minutes) declining by 7.6%. Interestingly enough, while voice contributions are down, SMS is on the rise. Thanks to the introduction of corporate SMS, total SMS usage rose by 6.3% year-on-year.

The focus for the state-owned firm over the next couple of months will be efficiencies, as the Chinese government is continuing to press the telco to improve connectivity across the country. It isn’t all rock n’ roll in the Chinese telco space.

Nokia gets a big piece of China Mobile optical transport gig

The world’s biggest MNO – China Mobile – recently held a central bid to supply equipment for its regional optical transport network, in which it ranked Nokia top.

The gig seems to be that a bunch of vendors are going to help out with the deployment of an optical transport network for 13 city metro and two provincial backbone networks, but that China Mobile will apportion the work between them according to some arbitrary ranking system. The good news for Nokia is that it came top of that table and, as a consequence, will get more optical networking business.

The usual array of networking virtue is being ascribed to whatever Nokia is serving up for China Mobile here. It’s all about agility, flexibility, scalability and all the other -ilities. And, of course, it’s so ready for 5G you wouldn’t believe it.

“We are very pleased to work closely with China Mobile to provide the optical technology for its most advanced networks today and in the future,” said Yu Xiaohan, head of the China Mobile customer team at Nokia Shanghai Bell. “We’ll continue to fulfil our mission by making people’s life easier as we create the technologies that connect the world.”

In other Nokia Far-Eastern news it has announced the opening of its Cloud Collaboration Hub in Singapore, which is somewhat ominously described as an ‘execution centre’ where multivendor cloud services can be tried out. It joins existing ones in the US and UK, all of which exist mainly to help operators get ahead on the cloud game.

“With the launch of the Cloud Collaboration Hub in Singapore, we will help operators in Asia Pacific and Japan select the right transformation strategy and build their revenue drivers and business cases for cloud-based solutions,” said Sandeep Girotra, head of Asia Pacific and Japan at Nokia. “This will accelerate operators’ moves towards becoming digital service providers at a crucial moment when technology is undergoing a paradigm shift, anchored by trends such as 5G, the Internet of things and the cloud.”

Nokia celebrates China Mobile SDN win for Nuage

There’s nothing Nokia likes more than trumpeting a deal win for its Nuage Networks SDN unit and this time it’s with the world’s biggest operator.

It’s actually a subsidiary called China Mobile (Suzhou) Software Technical Company that has chosen Nuage to provide the SDN platform for its public and private enterprise cloud services offering. The platform includes all kinds of juicy cloud buzzwords, including virtual machines, Kubernetes (K8S) containers and OpenStack Ironic-based bare metal servers.

Nokia says the Nuage Virtualized Services Platform (VSP) is nice and flexible, allowing it to support multiple cloud management systems, hypervisor and workload types, which seems to be something that appealed to China Mobile.

“Having a strong relationship with CMCC based on the work we’ve already done with them, we were especially pleased to be chosen to continue with this important project,” said Nuage CEO Sunil Khandekar. “The Nuage Networks solution allows CMCC to offer some very dynamic, high performing and attractive cloud services for their customers.”

The big kit vendors seem to be ramping up their deal-win virtue signalling, presumably trying to generate/demonstrate commercial momentum in the build up to the 5G feeding frenzy they’re all desperately hoping will take place in the next few years. But even in that context Nuage seems especially needy, and most of all in China, which maybe says something about Nokia’s strategic priorities.