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.

LG muscles in on competitive AI chip space

LG has unveiled has developed its own artificial intelligence chip in an attempt to muscle in on this increasingly competitive segment of the semiconductor market.

The AI market is proving to be rewarding for those who can prove their worth, and each day there seems to be a new ‘thought leader’ entering the fray. While there is a feeling AI could benefit application developers (Uber, Cruise, Waymo etc.) and internet companies (Amazon, Google, Microsoft etc.) more than the semiconductor giants, there will be winners and losers in this segment also.

“Our AI C​hip is designed to provide optimized artificial intelligence solutions for future LG products,” said IP Park, CTO of LG Electronics. “This will further enhance the three key pillars of our artificial intelligence strategy – evolve, connect and open – and provide customers with an improved experience for a better life.”

Nvidia might have made a run at this segment in the early days, though considering its experience lies in gaming applications, whether it can mount a serious challenge remains to be seen. Graphcore is one which has attracted investment from the likes of Dell, Microsoft and Samsung, while AMD, Intel, Huawei, Google and Qualcomm (as well as numerous others) are making this a very competitive space.

As with Intel in the PC-era and Qualcomm’s continued dominance in mobile, some might suspect there might be a clear leader in AI also.

LG has stated its chip will feature its proprietary LG Neural Engine to better mimic the neural network of the human brain. The aim is to distinguish space, location, objects and users, while hoping to improve the capabilities of the device by detecting physical and chemical changes in the environment. As with every AI plug, LG is also promoting the ability of on-device processing power.

Looking at the approach from LG, the team are targeting quite a niche aspect of the AI segment; the smart home. This makes sense, as while LG has a smartphone business, the brand is perhaps primarily known for its home appliances range.

During the last earnings call, the LG mobile business continued to struggle in a sluggish and cut-throat market, reporting a 29% year-on-year drop to $1.34 billion, though the home appliance market soared. Revenues and profits soared to record levels, accounting for more than 80% of the total profits for the business over the three months.

Future products, such as washing machines, refrigerators, and air conditioners will be fitted with the devices, as ‘intelligence’ and personalisation become more common themes in more generic and everyday products.

Maybe the smart toilet isn’t that far away after all.

Qualcomm moves to the edge with Cloud AI 100 chip

Mobile chip-maker Qualcomm reckons all the stuff it has learned about processing AI in smartphones will come in handy in datacentres too.

The Qualcomm Cloud AI 100 Accelerator is a special chip designed to process artificial intelligence in the cloud. Specifically Qualcomm seems to think it has an advantage when it comes to ‘AI inference’ processing – i.e. using algorithms that have been trained with loads of data. This stands to reason as it has its chips in millions of smart devices, all of which will have been asked to do some inference processing of their own from time to time.

“Today, Qualcomm Snapdragon mobile platforms bring leading AI acceleration to over a billion client devices,” said Qualcomm Product Management SVP Keith Kressin. “Our all new Qualcomm Cloud AI 100 accelerator will significantly raise the bar for the AI inference processing relative to any combination of CPUs, GPUs, and/or FPGAs used in today’s datacentres. Furthermore, Qualcomm Technologies is now well positioned to support complete cloud-to-edge AI solutions all connected with high-speed and low-latency 5G connectivity.”

The datacentre chips in question will largely be provided by Intel, although Nvidia has done a great job of converting its struggling mobile chip efforts into a successful AI processing operation. Qualcomm claims a 10x performance per watt advantage over incumbent AI inference chips and, while it didn’t call out any competitors in its press release, the predominance of their names in the headlines of other stories covering this launch makes it likely that has been the angle behind the scenes.

BT shows off its shiny new Nokia silicon

UK telco BT is one of the first customers for Nokia’s catchily-named 7750 SR-14s IP routing platform, which features its special FP4 chip.

Nokia first announced all this shiny new core gear a couple of years ago, but it looks like the sales cycle for this sort of thing is fairly protracted. So this is an important deal win for Nokia, but perhaps even more so for BT as it’s a clear statement of intent when it comes to investing in its core network. Apparently traffic through the BT network is growing by 40% annually so it needs to show it can handle it.

“BT’s FTTP footprint is growing on a daily basis, and we are launching 5G this year in the busiest parts of 16 of the UK’s busiest cities,” said Howard Watson, BT Group CTIO. “These technologies create an amazing customer experience, and drive people to watch more, play more and share more. We have to stay ahead of the massive traffic growth that this will bring, and Nokia are a key part of that, giving us the capacity and automation that we need.”

“Nokia’s 7750 SR-s platform, based on our FP4 silicon, will offer BT’s network the enhanced capabilities and automation needed to address continuously mounting capacity demands as it moves toward 5G,” said Sri Reddy, Co-President of IP/Optical Networks at Nokia. “Our exclusive partnership will allow BT’s converged core network to grow, and move to a programmable, insight-driven network architecture, creating a platform for BT’s growth to continue as demand for its services in FTTP and 5G expands.”

As you can see there’s a fair bit of buzzword-dropping in the canned quotes. The significance of FTTP and 5G in this context essentially amounts to the fact that network traffic is likely to keep growing rapidly for quite a while. For Nokia this is a juicy deal win in a core network market that, admittedly, is largely denied to one of its biggest competitors.

Huawei launches its own 5G chip

Huawei doesn’t feel like waiting for chip companies to get their act together on 5G so it has decided to make one of its own.

The Balong 5000 was launched in Beijing today. It supports all the previous generations of cellular technology as well as all the 5G frequencies. Huawei says it can deliver 4.6 Gbps at sub-6 Ghz and 6.5 Gbps over millimeter wave. It also claims to be the first chip to support both standalone and non-standalone 5G architectures and the first to support V2X communications.

“The Balong 5000 will open up a whole new world to consumers,” said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group. “It will enable everything to sense, and will provide the high-speed connections needed for pervasive intelligence.”

Huawei also launched the 5G CPR Pro, a 5G router that uses wifi 6 technology to claim speeds of almost 5 Gbps. “Powered by the Balong 5000, the Huawei 5G CPE Pro enables consumers to access networks more freely and enjoy an incredibly fast connected experience,” said Yu. “Huawei has an integrated set of capabilities across chips, devices, cloud services, and networks. Building on these strengths, as the leader of the 5G era, we will bring an inspired, intelligent experience to global consumers in every aspect of their lives.”

Not content with attacking the consumer market, Huawei also launched the Tiangang 5G base station chip. It too lays claim to having all the bells and whistles, including the ability to control 64 beamforming channels, enhanced computing capacity and greater power efficiency.

“Huawei now has industry-leading capabilities to deliver end-to-end 5G, with simplified 5G networks and simplified operations & maintenance,” said said Ryan Ding, Huawei Executive Director of the Board and Carrier Business Group CEO. “We are leading the commercial rollout of 5G, and building a mature industry ecosystem.”

These launches come at a good time for Huawei, considering all the negative publicity it has been getting recently. Yu used the launch event to make some pretty bullish statements, including his belief that Huawei will overtake Samsung to become the world’s number one smartphone vendor before long. He also teased the launch of a foldable 5G phone at MWC in a month’s time.