MediaTek defends itself after benchmark cheating accusations

After reports emerged suggesting MediaTek has been cheating the benchmarking system, the chipset manufacturer has vehemently defending its position.

It has been alleged in AnandTech that MediaTek has been cheating the mobile enthusiasts with some clever code. In the firmware files, references were found tying benchmark apps to a so-called ‘sports mode’. When triggered (if a benchmark app has been initiated), features on the phone were ramped up to give the impression of better performance.

AnandTech claims the cheating was brought to light thanks to testing two different OPPO Reno 3 devices. The Reno 3 Pro (the European version) beat the Reno 3 (the Chinese version) in the PCMark benchmark utility, despite its Helio P95’s Cortex-A75 CPU cores being two generations older than the Dimensity 1000L’s Cortex-A77 CPU cores. And not only did the Reno 3 Pro has older MediaSet chipsets than the Reno 3 devices, it had half as many.

The difference in the test results were slightly unusual, though when a ‘stealth’ benchmark apps were used, the lower results were confirmed.

Why those in the industry feel it is necessary to cheat benchmarking tests is anybody’s guess. The negatives of being caught far outweigh the gains of impressing a few hyper-geeks, and the cheaters eventually get caught. It is embarrassing and some might ask whether they are a reliable partner. The chipsets in questions have been used in OPPO, Vivo, Xiaomi and Sony devices.

Following the original statement, which you can see at the foot of the article, an expanded blog post was offered to the industry.

“We do find it interesting that AnandTech has called into question the benchmarking optimizations on MediaTek powered devices, when these types of configurations are widely practiced across the industry,” MediaTek said. “If they were to review other devices, they would see, as we have, that our key competitor has chipsets that operate in the exact same way – what AnandTech has deemed cheating on device benchmarking tests.”

Although this is a very reasonable explanation, it is still a bit fishy. It is perfectly understandable for performance to be ramped up for some applications, but the fact the ‘sports mode’ has been linked to the initiation of a benchmarking app as well as other functions (gaming for instance) suggests the aim is to fool the tests. Most reasonable individuals would assume these tests are performed in ‘normal’ mode.

Whether this is an adequate explanation, we’ll let the court of public opinion decide, but it is somewhat of a flimsy excuse.

Original MediaTek statement:

MediaTek follows accepted industry standards and is confident that benchmarking tests accurately represent the capabilities of our chipsets. We work closely with global device makers when it comes to testing and benchmarking devices powered by our chipsets, but ultimately brands have the flexibility to configure their own devices as they see fit. Many companies design devices to run on the highest possible performance levels when benchmarking tests are running in order to show the full capabilities of the chipset. This reveals what the upper end of performance capabilities are on any given chipset.

Of course, in real world scenarios there are a multitude of factors that will determine how chipsets perform. MediaTek’s chipsets are designed to optimize power and performance to provide the best user experience possible while maximizing battery life. If someone is running a compute-intensive program like a demanding game, the chipset will intelligently adapt to computing patterns to deliver sustained performance. This means that a user will see different levels of performance from different apps as the chipset dynamically manages the CPU, GPU and memory resources according to the power and performance that is required for a great user experience. Additionally, some brands have different types of modes turned on in different regions so device performance can vary based on regional market requirements.

We believe that showcasing the full capabilities of a chipset in benchmarking tests is in line with the practices of other companies and gives consumers an accurate picture of device performance.

What a Wonderful World of 5G Devices

Many brands have already brought to market large numbers of 5G devices, such as smartphones and hotspots. According to the latest tracking done by the GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association), an industry organisation, over 250 devices had been announced by mid-March 2020, with 67 of them commercially available, including 40 smartphones. Half a year previously, the same tracking recorded only 100 public device announcements, with only nine 5G smartphones commercially available. The pace of new 5G device launches has clearly been accelerating.

(Here we are sharing the opening section of this Telecoms.com Intelligence special briefing to look into how 5G operators and device makers can work together to deliver a win-win solution to grow the 5G ecosystem.

The full version of the report is available for free to download here.)

Consumers Love 5G Smartphones, or Do They?

Even in the midst of the ongoing uncertainty of COVID-19, the smartphone marketplace has been busy. A number of flagship 5G smartphones have been launched by companies like Samsung and Huawei as well as their challengers, most of which had been meant to be unveiled at this year’s Mobile World Congress that did not happen. Many companies have moved their launch events online.

Consumers have signed up to 5G services faster than they did 4G. South Korea clocked up 5 million 5G subscribers by the end of 2019, eight months after the three operators switched on their 5G networks. China’s total number of 5G subscribers topped 10 million by the end of 2019, only two months after the three operators launched 5G in the world’s biggest smartphone market. China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator by subscriber number, reported that it had attracted 15.4 million 5G customers by the end of February, four months after launch. Despite that few if any other operators have published their 5G subscriber numbers, the momentum is there.

So far, 5G device shipment numbers have been strong. The research firm Strategy Analytics estimated that 19 million 5G smartphones were shipped in 2019. This was higher than most analysts had expected. So, at the first sight at least, consumers have shown strong enthusiasm in embracing 5G smartphones. Meanwhile, some evidence is showing that consumers have bought 5G smartphones not necessarily for 5G, or at least not the 5G the industry professionals would define it.

A research recently published by the software company Amdocs found that over a third of British consumers are interested in upgrading to 5G devices this year, but most of them are not sure what 5G is all about. The minority of consumers that claimed to know 5G would primarily cite faster internet. However, if the consumers take operators’ “gigabit speed” promise literally, they will be disappointed.

The network benchmarking and testing firm Global Wireless Solutions conducted a field test of the 5G networks in the centre of London towards the end of last year. The highest download speed of 470 Mbps was recorded on EE network, while the lower speeds of 330 Mbps and 320 Mbps were recorded on O2 and Vodafone networks respectively. These numbers, in addition to falling far short of “gigabit”, could only be achieved if the customer stood next to the base stations. Even those consumers well versed enough to quote buzz words like “low latency” would also be disappointed. The Global Wireless Solutions tests have found no meaningful improvement in latency from 4G connectivity.

This is an indication that the success to expand 5G adoption from early adopters to early majority is far from certain. While operators are honing their skills to convince consumers of 5G benefits, device makers, in particular smartphone brands, would also have much to lose if consumer enthusiasm should dampen by the underwhelming experience and patchy coverage.

To explore the topic further, the rest of this report first discusses what operators are looking for in 5G devices. We then analyse the key drivers for higher consumer adoption of 5G devices, including the underlying technologies. The report concludes by looking at the leading trends in the 5G device market in the next two to three years.

The rest of the report include these sections:

  • Do Not Ask What Operators Can Do For You, Ask What You Can Do For the Operators
  • What Is Happening Under the Hood?
  • Plenty To Look Forward To
  • Q&A with Daniel Gleeson, Principal Analyst, Omdia
  • Additional Resources

The full version of the report is available for free to download here.

Huawei faces fresh threat from US-China spat over COVID-19

While the two presidents have spoken to each other again, the American government is still planning to further restrict Huawei’s access to chip supplies.

President Trump and Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, spoke on the phone for the first time since February after increasing acrimony between the two countries blaming each other for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It took place shortly after an emergency G20 online conference, in which both heads of state participated, and after Johns Hopkins statistics showed the US has registered more COVID-19 patients than China’s official number.

After the talk, Trump, in keeping with his communication tradition, turned to Twitter to share the news and his assessment:

If there is anything surprising in the tweet, in addition to Trump’s unpredictable change of mood and throw-away sentiments, is what is not there. It did not include the term “Chinese virus” which the President has repeatedly used in reference to the coronavirus that caused COVID-19 since a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman publicly promoted the conspiracy theory, on Twitter (which is banned inside China), that it was the American Army personnel that brought the new coronavirus to Wuhan, where the current global pandemic first started.

The official Chinese media, for example the China Daily, unsurprisingly covered the story in a manner as if the phone call had been a lecturing by Xi. In addition to defending China’s actions in the course of the pandemic, and offering to help other nations combat the disease, Xi is reported to have specifically asked the US to “adopt concrete measures to protect the safety and health of Chinese citizens, including students, in the US.” Many of China’s rich and famous have sent their children to the US, as students or otherwise. Xi’s own daughter was at Harvard before he became China’s supreme leader.

There had been signs of rapprochement prior to the call. For example, China’s ambassador to the US refused to endorse the foreign ministry spokesman’s conspiracy theory in an “Axios on HBO” interview a few days before.

Despite the possibility of thaw in the US-China relations at the highest level, actions behind the scene to curb China’s expansion in the US have not stopped. Reuters reported that just before the G20 conference call, officials from the National Security Council and the U.S. Departments of State, Defense, Energy and Commerce had met and agreed to change the Foreign Direct Product Rule in an effort to restrict Huawei’s access to chips made by companies using American technologies and American equipment.

This is aimed at reviving a similar plan tabled in February, which President Trump has presumably refused to sign into law. He told reporters at that time “We’re not going to be sacrificing our companies … by using a fake term of national security. It’s got to be real national security. And I think people were getting carried away with it.”

Huawei’s founder has remained defiant throughout, downplaying both the impact of the American sanctions and that of the hit on market by the pandemic. However, if the new measures pushed by the American government are approved by the President, they can have material impact. Despite that HiSilicon, Huawei’s wholly-owned chip design company, has made impressive progress in recent years, it relies on fab firms like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest microchip manufacturer, to turn the designs into physical chips. There are only a handful companies that can do so, and almost all of them use American technologies.

China’s public stance to shift blame of the COVID-19 pandemic to other countries may even backfire from markets in addition to the US, and Huawei could be caught in it. The same foreign ministry spokesman has also actively disseminated rumours that the virus was originated in Italy, which has been flatly refuted by the Italian scholar it purported to quote. This and his earlier shenanigans against the US have lent support for growing pressure inside the British government on Boris Johnson, the PM in self-isolation after tested positive for COVID-19, to revisit the decision to allow Huawei to participate in building the country’s 5G networks.

It is probably fair to say that Huawei’s opaque relationship with the Chinese state has not helped its image in the western markets, nor has China’s questionable way in both dealing with the pandemic and reporting its number of patients and casualties. The company itself, as well as other Chinese tech companies, has generously donated large quantities of medical equipment and protective gears to Europe.

Qualcomm unveils third-gen 5G modem

Mobile chip maker Qualcomm has offered the first look at its third generation 5G modem, but it won’t appear in devices for a year.

The Snapdragon X60 5G Modem-RF System, to use its full name, will be the first of any kind to incorporate a baseband that’s manufactured on the 5nm process. This means the silicon can do more processing and use less power then older manufacturing processes. Other than that the headline new features concern carrier aggregation.

Not only will the X60 support CA across all 5G bands, including mmWave, it will also let you combine FDD and TDD streams. The significance of this kind of CA flexibility is that, in principle, it will allow operators to cobble together whatever bits of spectrum they find down the back of the sofa in a bid to deliver on the many promises made on behalf of 5G.

“Qualcomm Technologies is at the heart of 5G launches globally with mobile operators and OEMs introducing 5G services and mobile devices at record pace,” said Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm President. “As 5G standalone networks are introduced in 2020, our third-generation 5G modem-RF platform brings extensive spectrum aggregation capabilities and options to fuel the rapid expansion of 5G rollouts while enhancing coverage, power efficiency and performance for mobile devices. We are excited about the fast adoption of 5G across geographies and the positive impact 5G is having on the user experience.”

There’s not that much else to add for now, since this new product portfolio is still some way from existing in the wild. AnandTech did a comprehensive-looking deep dive here, if you fancy geeking out a bit on this, and there’s also the vid below. What does seem likely is that Qualcomm will maintain its 5G modem leadership for the foreseeable future.

Qualcomm all-in on cars at CES 2020

At the first big tech show of the year mobile chip giant Qualcomm is focusing on cars rather than phones.

The most eye-catching of its many CES announcements is Qualcomm Snapdragon Ride, a new autonomous driving platform. It consists of the family of Snapdragon Ride Safety SoCs, Snapdragon Ride Safety Accelerator and Snapdragon Ride Autonomous Stack. Qualcomm claims it’s one of the automotive industry’s most advanced, scalable and open autonomous driving solutions, but then it would.

In common with the smartphone Snapdragon platform, Qualcomm is aiming to provide as much of the technology required to enable autonomous driving as possible in one package. Right now that includes the following: L1/L2 Active Safety ADAS for vehicles that include automatic emergency braking, traffic sign recognition and lane keeping assist functions; L2+ Convenience ADAS for vehicles featuring Automated Highway Driving, Self-Parking and Urban Driving in Stop-and-Go traffic; and L4/L5 Fully Autonomous Driving for autonomous urban driving, robo-taxis and robo-logistics.

“Today, we are pleased to be introducing our first-generation Snapdragon Ride platform, which is highly scalable, open, fully customizable and highly power optimized autonomous driving solution designed to address a range of requirements from NCAP to L2+ Highway Autopilot to Robo Taxis,” said Nakul Duggal, SVP of product management at Qualcomm.

“Combined with our Snapdragon Ride Autonomous Stack, or an automaker or tier-1’s own algorithms, our platform aims at accelerating the deployment of high-performance autonomous driving to mass market vehicles. We’ve spent the last several years researching and developing our new autonomous platform and accompanying driving stack, identifying challenges and gathering insights from data analysis to address the complexities automakers want to solve.”

There were a bunch of other related announcements, including new strategic partnerships with GM, Denso and Sasken, as well as some other additions to Qualcomm’s connected car portfolio. Elsewhere the Bluetooth industry received another boost with Qualcomm’s launch of aptX Voice high quality audio. CES has always offered Qualcomm the opportunity to show off what it offers outside of the smartphone space and it seems to be taking good advantage this year.

Cisco revamps networking platform with new silicon and software

US networking giant Cisco has unveiled a major refresh of its core technology, including a first-ever unified silicon architecture, a new OS and a new platform.

Cisco is positioning this big reveal as its ‘internet for the future’ strategy, which seems like a more hyperbolic way of describing a major product refresh. At the core of it is Cisco Silicon One, a new microarchitecture that is designed to be flexible enough to use anywhere in the network. It makes its debut in the Cisco 8000 router series networking platform that also features a new operating system called IOS XR7.

“Innovation requires focused investment, the right team and a culture that values imagination,” said Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco. “We are dedicated to transforming the industry to build a new internet for the 5G era. Our latest solutions in silicon, optics and software represent the continued innovation we’re driving that helps our customers stay ahead of the curve and create new, ground-breaking experiences for their customers and end users for decades to come.”

“Cisco’s technology strategy is not about the next-generation of a single product area,” said David Goeckeler, GM of the Networking and Security Business at Cisco. “We have spent the past several years investing in whole categories of independent technologies that we believe will converge in the future — and ultimately will allow us to solve the hardest problems on the verge of eroding the advancement of digital innovation. This strategy is delivering the most ambitious development project the company has ever achieved.”

Cisco has some heavyweight partners in this endeavour, with Google Cloud and Facebook’s TIP initiative speaking up in support. The broader narrative is that this is all about supporting 5G and all the good stuff we’re promised it will bring, which implies a renewed focus on the operator market. You can read in-depth analysis of the move on Light Reading here.

Qualcomm unveils new flagship Snapdragon

Mobile chip giant Qualcomm dragged the industry over to Hawaii so they could hear about some of the new stuff it has lined up for next year.

You’ll be amazed to hear that Qualcomm reckons 5G is going to be a big deal and that it expects to be a big part of that. “5G will open new and exciting opportunities to connect, compute, and communicate in ways we’ve yet to imagine and we are happy to be a key player driving the adoption of 5G around the world,” said Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon, presumably having had to be dragged away from a Mai Tai to manage even that.

At the vanguard of Qualcomm’s 2020 5G push will, of course, be it’s Snapdragon SoCs, which tend to find their way into the mobile devices made by any vendor that can’t be bothered to make its own chips. The flagship Snapdragon next year will be the 865, which will include the X55 5G modem. One rung further down the value chain will be the 765, see how it works?

The other main announcement on the first day in Maui is an updated version of Qualcomm’s ‘3D sonic fingerprint technology’. Apparently the new, improved version offers a 17x lager recognition area as well as other improvements. The keynote didn’t seem to address the hassle Samsung recently had with the technology, which presumably led to a bit of a diplomatic incident between the companies. Cnet, however, had a chat with Qualcomm about that very topic, which you can read here.

Lastly, for those of you either not invited or disinclined to schlep half way around the world for a spot of sub-tropical death-by-PowerPoint, Qualcomm thoughtfully recorded the Day 1 keynotes and put them of YouTube, which you can see below.

Intel reduced to using MediaTek modems for 5G PCs

Remember when Intel was Apple’s 5G secret weapon to break Qualcomm’s modem stranglehold? Well, now not so much.

It turns out Intel can’t even cobble together a modem for its own products and has been reduced to calling on the help of MediaTek to bring 5G to PCs containing its chips. The resulting effort is, of course, being positioned as ‘a 5G solution’, which long-time Intel partners Dell and HP will be dutifully whacking into some of their laptops when it becomes available.

“5G is poised to unleash a new level of computing and connectivity that will transform the way we interact with the world,” proclaimed Gregory Bryant, GM of Intel’s Client Computing Group. “This partnership with MediaTek brings together industry leaders with deep engineering, system integration and connectivity expertise to deliver 5G experiences on the next generation of the world’s best PCs.”

Note the uncharacteristic absence of superlatives in that otherwise by-the-book canned quote. That’s because everyone knows Qualcomm is the 5G modem leader, even Apple. Relations between Qualcomm and intel are presumably strained since the latter tried to help Apple strong-arm the former and as a result Intel partners get an inferior modem in their 5G solutions.

“Our 5G modem for PCs, developed in partnership with Intel, is integral to making 5G accessible and available across home and mobile platforms,” said MediaTek President Joe Chen. “5G will usher in the next era of PC experiences, and working with Intel, an industry leader in computing, highlights MediaTek’s expertise in designing 5G technology for global markets.”

Does it really though, Joe? Anyway, the extent to which there will be any demand for laptops with built-in 5G built in remains to be seen. With tethering now so easy, it’s hard to see why anyone would pay a premium for any kind of embedded modem in their lappy, let alone a 5G one. But it would have looked bad for Intel to not even give it a go, and that’s what this announcement seems to be about, as much as anything else.

Samsung launches a new 5G modem.

Korean electronics giant Samsung had revamped its Exynos 5G modem and processor range with a couple of new ones manufactured on the 7nm EUV process.

The Exynos Modem 5123 and Exynos 990 processor are made using a 7 nanometer process technology, which is about as advanced as silicon tech gets these days and uses extreme ultra-violet is some clever way to deal with the physical challenges of operating at such tiny sizes. To the layman this means you can cram more transistors into a smaller space and thus make the chip perform better.

“Milestones in technological advancements are imminent all around us,” said Inyup Kang, President of the System LSI Business at Samsung Electronics. “Mobile 5G technology is opening new avenues for communication and connection, while AI is poised to become an everyday tool for people worldwide. Samsung’s Exynos 990 and Exynos Modem 5123 are perfectly adapted for high-volume 5G and AI applications, and are designed to help the world’s most ambitious enterprises, large and small, achieve their goals of bringing new capabilities to their markets.”

Samsung has plenty more detailed technical claims to make about the new chips but you get the gist. In other news Samsung is seeking to promote its new ‘experience space’ in Kings Cross by getting people to send in their selfies, which it then beams into space and displays on a Galaxy S10 smartphone that is somehow dangling in orbit. Here’s a video about it.

 

Qualcomm makes its flagship chip a bit better

Just when you thought the Snapdragon 855 was as good as it gets, Qualcomm has only gone and put a plus on the end of it.

As its name implies, the Snapdragon 855 Plus is a bit better than the Snapdragon 855 chip, which Qualcomm launched amid much fanfare in Hawaii late last year. The marketing top-line for this launch is that it’s all about mobile gaming, with both the CPU and GPU being a bit faster than in the boring old vanilla 855. As with its predecessor the 855 Plus also plays nice with the 5G X50 modem.

“Snapdragon 855 Plus will raise the bar for elite gamers with the increase in CPU and GPU performance and elevate experiences for 5G, gaming, AI and XR, which is something our OEM customers look to us to deliver,” said Kedar Kondap, VP of product management at Qualcomm. “Snapdragon 855 Plus is our most advanced mobile platform to date and will build upon the success of the 2019 Android flagship Snapdragon 855 5G mobile platform.”

Apart from the faster processors there is talk of something called the Snapdragon Elite Gaming Experience, which includes the Vulkan 1.1 Graphics Driver, which Qualcomm compares favourably to Open GL ES and the ‘Game Jank Reducer’, a must-have for anyone whose game jank has reached troublesome levels. As if that’s not enough this SoC features the fourth generation of Qualcomm’s AI engine and some VR/AR features.