Qualcomm claims first multi-vendor C-V2X demo in China

Mobile chip giant Qualcomm is pushing hard to be a key player in cellular communications between vehicles and the rest of the world.

The somewhat forced abbreviation for this sort of thing is C-V2X (cellular vehicle to everything) and the Qualcomm 9150 chipset is designed to enable it. In partnership with Chinese firm Datang Telecom Group Qualcomm has claimed the first demonstration of multi-chipset vendor C-V2X direct communication interoperability.

“This interoperability test conducted with Qualcomm Technologies is of great importance and is a milestone for the industry as it is the first chip level PC5 Mode 4 interoperability test, which demonstrated the maturity and readiness of commercial deployment for C-V2X technology,” said Yingmin Wang, CTO of Datang Telecom Group.

“Achieving this milestone with Datang is quite significant as it exemplifies the technology maturity to support C-V2X commercial deployments starting in 2019,” said Nakul Duggal, VP of Product Management at Qualcomm. “With our long history of wireless leadership in China, and close collaborations with the automotive and telecom industries, we look forward to continued work alongside leaders in China as we collectively advance towards the commercial reality of safer and more connected vehicles.”

This is all compatible with 3GPP Release 14 C-V2X direct communications (PC5) Mode 4, otherwise known as LTE-V2X. The demo used the Qualcomm 9150 chipset and Datang’s DMD31 LTE-V2X module, using the 5.9 GHz spectrum, which has been set aside for this sort of thing. One of the key use-cases will vehicle-to-infrastructure communication that is needed for things like automated collision avoidance and autonomous driving in general.

Qualcomm teases next-gen 5G mobile platform

Mobile chip giant Qualcomm has not quite unveiled its next major mobile platform, which is designed to be paired with its X50 5G modem.

The announcement, which didn’t offer much detail, seemed designed to maintain buzz ahead of the anticipated launch of 5G devices in a few months’ time. The platform doesn’t even have a name yet, but it’s safe to assume it will be Snapdragon followed by a four digit number. We do know it will be manufactured on the 7nm process node, which will ensure it packs more of a processing punch in a smaller package than its 10nm predecessor.

“We are very pleased to be working with OEMs, operators, infrastructure vendors, and standards bodies across the world, and are on track to help launch the first 5G mobile hotspots by the end of 2018, and smartphones using our next-generation mobile platform in the first half of 2019,” said Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm president. “Qualcomm Technologies’ continued leadership in research and engineering allows for a future of increased innovation across multiple sectors as 5G connectivity becomes ubiquitous.”

The full reveal of Qualcomm’s next flagship mobile SoC will come later this year. It comes at a time when the ARM ecosystem is competing harder than ever with x86 chips in the PC and server markets. With the top three smartphone vendors all producing their own SoCs, how Qualcomm positions the Snapdragon platform to exploit non-smartphone opportunities will be key.

S9 halts Samsung run of progress but semiconductors stand strong

Samsung’s run of reporting record quarterly results has come to an end as sluggish sales for its flagship S9 device hit a wall.

Analysts had been predicting this would be a tough quarter for the device, some believing this would be the weakest launch for years, and it appears the fears have become reality. With sales of roughly $52.1 billion for the three months, a decline of 4% year-on-year, Samsung at least offered somewhat accurate guidance in a note a couple of weeks ago.

“Second quarter revenue fell due to softer sales of smartphones and display panels, despite robust demand for memory chips,” said Samsung in the earnings statement. “The continued strength of the Company’s memory business contributed to the higher operating profit. Net profit was little changed from a year earlier due to higher income tax.”

While this is certainly not an ideal situation for the business, at least it is not alone. The iPhoneX has also been experiencing sluggish sales, as the continued trend of flat innovation and limited differentiation continues. Apple might have been able to avoid the dip over the last couple of years, selling on its brand more than product innovation, but it seems not even the iLifers can continue to blindly follow the iChief down the trail of mediocrity any more. No-one is permanently exempt of global trends.

For the short-term future, the story is unlikely to change significantly, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. With 5G networks set to be switched on over the next couple of years, manufacturers will soon be able to begin a refreshment cycle of devices, with flagship products being marketed as ‘5G Ready’. The consumers insatiable appetite for data and the need for speed will likely spur on the need to update devices.

This might not be the best time for the devices division, Samsung does at least have the burgeoning, if not as sexy, semiconductor unit. The NAND and DRAM markets continued to be big earners for Samsung, despite commenting on weak seasonal demand. With global cloud trends continuing to surge, front-line suppliers to the data centre industry are not going to be going hungry any time soon.

For servers, demand for SSD for data centres is forecast to remain strong, while for enterprise, adoption of high-density server SSD over 8TB is expected to continue. The adoption of SSD is expected to expand into more sectors and all product segments are projected to use more high-density eStorage, perhaps explaining the South Korean drive for innovation in the semiconductor market.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the South Korean government has pledged roughly $1.34 billion to the semiconductor industry over the next ten years, to support the country’s position in the global standings, but also to capitalise on the expected growth in the segment. The semiconductor space is considered to account for roughly 20% of the country’s exports.

“In order to have South Korea maintain its reputation as the world’s top semiconductor powerhouse, we will support the development of the chip industry by focusing on three strategies,” said Paik Un-gyu, Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy.

The three pillars of the strategy are the development of next-generation materials that will replace existing memory chips, the seeking of combined growth of fabless and foundry businesses, and hosting production lines of global semiconductor companies. Samsung will almost undoubtedly benefit from government interest in this area.

Samsung’s flagship business unit, its smartphone division, has had a rough couple of years, owing to a global slowdown on devices and also its own engineering ‘difficulties’, but this decline is not something which we should be surprised at; the writing has been on the wall as consumers start to favour refurbished or second devices, while also extending the lifecycle of their current devices. But on the positive side, Samsung is collecting profits through diversification.

Investors will moan about the deficit in sales and profits, but a burgeoning semiconductor division and a device refreshment cycle on the horizon, it could be in a worse position.

Huawei shows its 5G hand, including a 2019 5G handset launch

At a recent event Huawei made a number of announcements regarding its strategic direction for the next few years, with an emphasis on 5G.

The event was Huawei’s own Global Analyst Summit in Shenzhen – the 15th such occasion. It managed to fit some substance in among the usual self-congratulation and miscellaneous corporate propaganda and, while we weren’t there, we spoke to Counterpoint Analyst Neil Shah who was and who has been tweeting prodigiously throughout.

The tweet that most caught our eye was the announcement that Huawei will be launching a 5G smartphone in the second half of 2019 running its own 5G chip. “This points towards their Mate flagship model which launches normally in September timeframe,” Shah told Telecoms.com. “Furthermore, the first wave of 5G devices will be routers, CPE followed by mobile hotpots in early 2019 with their own chipset and then 5G smartphones and possibly an ARM based laptop from the in-house Kirin branded SoCs.”

Huawei seems to be pretty handy at SoCs these days, with Shah saying it pretty much caught up with Qualcomm from 4.5G onwards. “Almost two in three Huawei smartphones sold in Q4 2017, had an in-house Kirin branded SoC, rest was Qualcomm or Mediatek,” said Shah. Another thing Huawei shared was that building a 5G smartphone is more challenging than 3G or 4G as these will include multi-modes (2G,3G,4G,4.9G, 5G SA/NSA) and mmWave support, which makes the RF integration and positioning more complicated.

“Furthermore, a 5G phone needs 5x more processing power, 2.5x more power consumption and 1.3x board size. So Huawei is working on building ASIC 5G chips for smartphones, which is phenomenal! ASIC chips are used for bitcoin mining, so maybe in future you can mine bitcoin on your phone.

The silicon side of things from Huawei often goes under the radar, perhaps because it’s involved in so much other stuff. “They have been almost on par with Qualcomm in terms of performance (from my personal experience) and in terms of technology not far behind especially 4G onwards due to growing share of 4G and 5G patents and IP,” said Shah.

Coincidentally Counterpoint has recently published its global 5G smartphone forecast, which anticipates fully ramping in 2021 to exceed 100 million units shipped. “Growth in the early commercial phase of 5G is expected to be low due to several factors,” said Shah’s colleague Tom Kang. “There are still forward looking 5G standards that are unconfirmed, creating uncertainty around product and service opportunities. We also expect 5G chips to have a higher price point which will initially drive the cost of devices up. 5G capable devices will be premium only in the beginning. Also only a handful of countries will be deploying the first 5G infrastructure.”

Counterpoint 5G smartphone forecast

Huawei also seemed to strike a cautious note on the short-term prospects for 5G, with commercial use-cases also not expected to make a serious appearance until 2021. “In near to mid-term Fixed Wireless Access is going to be huge as an alternative to fibre and DSL, especially in NSA mode,” said Shah. “Post 2024 in Standalone mode, AR,VR gaming, autonomous vehicles, intelligent manufacturing and smart grids which require less than 10ms end-to-end latency will be key.”

The other main pillar of 5G is IoT and Huawei seems to be serving up some pretty competitive silicon in this area too. “Huawei has pioneered NB-IoT networking and is driving the ecosystem from chip (Boudica) to platform (LiteOS) to cloud (Huawei IoT cloud),” said Shah. “Huawei’s upcoming Boudica 150 in Q2 2018will integrate MCU and modem into one single chip with a target cost of under $2, which is very disruptive considering the average LTE-M to 4G chip goes for $10 to $70. Also it will allow faster time-to-market, bringing it down from months to weeks from an interoperability and testing perspective. So far most of the chipsets in the IoT modules have been discrete (as opposed to integrated SoC) solutions.

On top of what we learned from Shah, Huawei has chucked out a couple of press releases from the event. The headline propaganda was Huawei’s ‘vision for an intelligent world of the future’. “In an age defined by greatness, Huawei aspires to become a great company,” said Huawei Rotating Chairman, Eric Xu. “We want to help mankind take its next step forward. This is the basis of our new vision and mission: Bring digital to every person, home and organization for a fully connected, intelligent world.”

To underline these lofty aspirations Huawei has published a report entitled Global Industry Vision 2025, which features a bunch of predictions and forecasts distilled in to three main ‘visions’. Firstly it sees 40 billion personal smart devices and 100 billion connections around the world by 2025. Secondly it anticipates 60 million vehicles will be connected to 5G networks and 100% of new vehicles connected to the internet by that time. Lastly Huawei predicts that the digital economy will be worth US$23 trillion in seven years.

Huawei likes these big corporate extravaganzas and, while there is usually a fair bit of forgettable hot air, they also serve as a pretty substantial statement of intent and throw down the gauntlet to its competitors. Ericsson and Nokia used to do more of this sort of thing and must feel under pressure to raise their game once more each time one of these is held.

More semiconductor consolidation as Marvell buys Cavium for $6 billion

US networking and wireless chip company Marvell is dropping $6 billion on Cavium, which also makes chips that do similar stuff.

Both companies work largely behind the scenes, designing SoCs that control things like storage units, networking products and wireless connectivity. Here’s how the announcement describes the deal.

‘The transaction combines Marvell’s portfolio of leading HDD and SSD storage controllers, networking solutions and high-performance wireless connectivity products with Cavium’s portfolio of leading multi-core processing, networking communications, storage connectivity and security solutions.’

The rest of it is the usual M&A talk about synergies, scale and end-to-end solutions. “This is an exciting combination of two very complementary companies that together equal more than the sum of their parts,” said Marvell CEO Matt Murphy.

“This combination expands and diversifies our revenue base and end markets, and enables us to deliver a broader set of differentiated solutions to our customers. Syed Ali has built an outstanding company, and I’m excited that he is joining the Board. I’m equally excited that Cavium’s Co-founder Raghib Hussain and Vice President of IC Engineering Anil Jain will also join my senior leadership team. Together, we all will be able to deliver immediate and long-term value to our customers, employees and shareholders.”

“Individually, our businesses are exceptionally strong, but together, we will be one of the few companies in the world capable of delivering such a comprehensive set of end-to-end solutions to our combined customer base,” said Cavium Co-founder and CEO, Syed Ali. “Our potential is huge. We look forward to working closely with the Marvell team to ensure a smooth transition and to start unlocking the significant opportunities that our combination creates.”

As they said Murphy will be the CEO of the combined company, with Ali adopting a more strategic role as an advisor and board member. The semiconductor sector has been subject to consolidation for some time, with the mega-acquisition attempt by Broadcom of Qualcomm set to be one of the biggest acquisitions ever if they pull it off.

Qualcomm claims first 5G data connection with a device chipset

Embattled chip giant Qualcomm is keen to show its state of perma-litigation isn’t distracting it from the business of modem innovation.

The ‘5G firsts’ are coming thick and fast these days as we’re less than a year from the anticipated standard being announced. While it’s involved in a number of different chippy areas Qualcomm’s core competence remains modems, so it’s vital to the future health of the company that it occupies as strong a position in 5G as it did in the previous couple of cellular connectivity generations.

Qualcomm has been banging on about its X50 5G modem for a while, but this seems to be the first time it has publicly been used for a 5G transmission. The demo was done over the 28 GHz spectrum band, using several 100 MHz carriers, and claims to have topped 1 Gbps download speeds. The canned comment provided is exemplary of the kind of modest, insightful understatement we have come to expect from Qualcomm.

“Achieving the world’s first announced 5G data connection with the Snapdragon X50 5G modem chipset on 28GHz mmWave spectrum is truly a testament to Qualcomm Technologies’ leadership in 5G and extensive expertise in mobile connectivity,” said Cristiano Amon, President of QCT. “This major milestone and our 5G smartphone reference design showcase how Qualcomm Technologies is driving 5G NR in mobile devices to enhance mobile broadband experiences for consumers around the world.”

In other Qualcomm news the company has announced new additions to the RF Front-End (RFFE) portfolio that are designed to support devices operating in the 600 MHz spectrum, which will be welcome news for T-Mobile US. It has also launched the Snapdragon 636, which is a bit better than the mid/high end Snapdragon 630. Lastly if you have any doubts about what a big deal 5G will be, this Qualcomm video, complete with bizarre soundtrack, should put your mind at ease.