Samsung unveils its first 5G integrated chipset for smartphones

Samsung Electronics introduced Exynos 980, its first 5G integrated mobile chipset for the mainstream market. Mass production will start by the end of the year.

Samsung’s 5G devices have so far been using separate modem and APE solutions, including its own Exynos 9820 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chipsets teamed up with the Exynos 5100 and Snapdragon X50 modems. The new 5G integrated chipset announced today is Samsung’s first. With an 8nm footprint, the chipset combines the 5G modem and APE processors using 8nm FinFET process.

“With the introduction of our 5G modem last year, Samsung has been driving in the 5G revolution and paved the way towards the next step in mobility,” said Ben Hur, VP of System LSI marketing at Samsung Electronics. “With the 5G-integrated Exynos 980, Samsung is pushing to make 5G more accessible to a wider range of users and continues to lead innovation in the mobile 5G market.”

The chipset’s key specifications include:

  • Modem: supports 5G NR Sub-6GHz with max 2.55Gbps downlink and 1.28Gbps uplink speeds. It is also backward compatible with LTE, 3G, and 2G.
  • CPU: one 2.2GHz Dual-core based on Cortex-A77, and one set of 1.8GHz Hexa-core based on Cortex-A55. It may be worth noting that Samsung’s high-end Exynos 9820 can go up to a max speed of 2.73 GHz.
  • Camera support: single-camera up to 108Mp, or dual-camera 20MP+20MP. Samsung also stresses the integrated AI capability to support photo taking.
  • Video support: 4K UHD 120fps encoding and decoding with HEVC(H.265), H.264, VP9

Samsung said in the announcement that the mass production of Exynos 980 is expected to start by the end of this year, indicating Samsung 5G smartphones and tablets based on this new chipset will hit the market in the first half of 2020, if not the first quarter.

One day earlier, Samsung announced Galaxy A90 5G, a mid-range 5G smartphone, based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 platform, which is aimed at taking 5G to the mainstream users. The new Exynos 980 is likely to power the next generation of mid-range devices.

The 5G momentum in South Korea, Samsung’s home market, has been going strong. After registering 1 million subscribers by the beginning of June, government data showed that by the end of July the total number of 5G subscribers, from all three operators combined, already topped 2 million.

Here is Exynos 980’s promotion video:

 

5G has already yielded 12 phones and five chipset vendors – GSA

The Global (mobile) Suppliers Association has launched what it claims is the first global database of commercial 5G devices.

Here’s what they’ve spotted so far:

  • 12 phones (plus regional variants)
  • 5 chipset vendors (Huawei, Intel, Mediatek, Qualcomm and Samsung)
  • 4 hotspots (plus regional variants)
  • 8 CPE devices (indoor and outdoor)
  • 5 modules
  • 2 Snap-On dongles / adapters
  • 1 USB terminal

“Commercial services need commercial devices, so the momentum behind 5G devices represents an important benchmark for the worldwide roll-out of live 5G services,” said Joe Barrett, GSA President. “While early 4G devices were modems and dongles, with 5G we’re seeing smartphones lead the way with early commercial availability. This gives an early indication of where the industry is expecting to see the first 5G opportunities.”

This is the latest component of the GSA Analyser for Mobile Broadband Devices (GAMBoD) database, a tool designed to help industry stakeholders keep track of all this stuff. By pure coincidence, or maybe not, its launch comes on the same day at the publication of the latest 5G Market Reality Check from Hadden Telecoms.

The eponymous Alan Hadden was for some time the VP of Research at the GSA, before deciding to go it alone with a similar set of analytical services. His company’s latest publication lists the 211 operators around the world known to be investing in 5G, but earlier this month it too was alking devices, as you can see in the slide below.

“Operators globally are preparing for the large-scale introduction of 5G, the first services have launched, and the devices ecosystem is rapidly building and poised for the imminent scale availability of a range of smartphone models,” said Hadden. “Dozens more operators are expected to launch their respective 5G services in the coming 12 months.”

Hadden 5G devices

Qualcomm-NXP deal could be back on

The Chinese president would be open to approving the acquisition of NXP should Qualcomm propose again, according to the White House.

The American and Chinese presidents met during the G20 event in Argentina to cover an array of thorny issues. The White House press secretary’s statement on 1 December included the key points. On trade, “President Trump has agreed that on January 1, 2019, he will leave the tariffs on $200 billion worth of product at the 10% rate, and not raise it to 25% at this time.”

However, this is conditional on a few concessions from China, including substantial increased purchase of American products, and structural changes with respect to forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft, services and agriculture. “If at the end of this period of time, the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the 10% tariffs will be raised to 25%”, the statement said.

The last point on the statement related to Qualcomm’s proposed acquisition of NXP.  The statement said “President Xi also stated that he is open to approving the previously unapproved Qualcomm-NXP deal should it again be presented to him.” The deal, after repeatedly missing extended deadlines, was called off in July after China had refused to approve it.

As is typical with meetings like this, each party has been trumpeting its own triumphs. Bloomberg compared how the results were communicated differently in the two countries’ official channels. The Qualcomm-NXP reconsideration, together with the 90-day deadline and a few other points, was not mentioned by the Chinese official media. In a more bizarre twist, the official translation of the White House statement produced by the American Embassy in China is said to have been blocked from sharing on WeChat, the popular social network in China.

Nokia chips in to raise optical network capacity limit

Networking vendor Nokia is increasingly starting to look like a chipset company, with its third major chip launch in the past year.

This one is intriguingly called the Photonic Service Engine 3 (PSE-3), because it’s all about pushing optical network capacity to its theoretical limits. If you think that doesn’t sound quite science fiction enough then get a load of this: the PSE-3 chipset is the first coherent digital signal processor to implement probabilistic constellation shaping (PCS).

As you would expect Nokia has been working on PCS for some time, and this chip would seem to be the culmination of its efforts. The technology is designed to push the Shannon Limit, which defines the maximum theoretical capacity of a communications channel. It generates wavelengths that are more resilient to noise thus, claims Nokia, increases capacity by 65% while reducing power by 60%, which seems significant.

“This is a breakthrough in how we can maximize the performance of optical networks and, at the same time, vastly simplify operations,” said Sam Bucci, Head of Optical Networks for Nokia. “The Photonic Service Engine 3 is the culmination of a decade of research and first-hand experience building the largest, highest capacity optical networks in the world.

“By introducing this extreme and yet remarkably simple programmability, our customers can now maximize the capacity of every link in their network, whether that’s 10 km, 10,000 km or beyond. They will be able to keep their costs under control while handling the huge bandwidth demands that video, cloud, and soon 5G will be throwing at them.”

“Spark and Nokia have a proud partnership delivering optical innovation in New Zealand and ensuring our network stays ahead of market demand,” Rajesh Singh, GM Value Management and Procurement, Spark New Zealand. “Building on our 2012 introduction of 100G transport and 200G in 2017, the new Nokia Bell Labs powered PSE-3 technology will allow Spark to plan towards 400G and 1Tb services supporting the significant predicted traffic demands of 5G, video, business services and IoT. We’re very excited about the world leading capability of the Nokia PSE-3 to help us meet those demands and at the same time reducing the cost per transported bit.”

This latest launch, when grouped with last year’s FP4 chip announcement, would appear to be giving Nokia a strong offering in the fixed line market with its own silicon as a significant USP. Looking back at MWC, while Nokia had plenty to say about 5G radio, its single biggest differentiator appears to be its fixed line portfolio, to which this latest announcement is a further contribution.

In other news Igor Leprince, who headed up the Nokia Global Services silo for a while, seems to have paid the price for his unit’s underperformance. Pausing only to hand over the reins to his previous head of sales – Sanjay Goel – Leprince will be updating his LinkedIn profile and pursuing other opportunities at the end of this month.

Assuming a lack of sales was a contributing factor to Leprince’s sudden interest in the broader vocational marketplace, replacing him with the person most responsible for those sales, such as they were, is an intriguing move. But what do we know and we wish Goel all the best.

Nokia uses it silicon secret sauce to make new ReefShark chipsets

Uniquely among major networking vendors Nokia is keen to talk-up its chip design credentials, with the latest lot designed to help base stations get with the 5G programme.

The chipset family is called ReefShark, for some reason. We guess Nokia’s marketing department thought it was time its products got sexier, tougher-sounding names. That seemed to work well for Qualcomm with Snapdragon which, despite being named after a flower, went big on the sinister giant lizard imagery in its marketing.

ReefShark actually consists of three distinct chipsets, so it’s technically a school of ReefSharks (or whatever the collective noun for sharks is – apparently a shiver of sharks is a thing, who knew?) Wikipedia says there are four main varieties of Reef Shark, so there are naming opportunities there too.

One addresses the digital front end for LTE and 5G radio systems supporting massive MIMO, one is a RFIC (Radio Frequency Integrated Circuit) front-end module and transceiver designed to be a massive MIMO adaptive antenna solution. And the last one is a baseband processor with a compute-heavy design, aimed at supporting the massive scale requirements of 5G.

Why do we need special super-duper silicon for all this stuff? 5G of course. The digital front end is the interface between the antenna and transceiver and once 5G turns up will need to do a lot more processing to optimise the signal. The RFIC chip integrates a lot of previously discrete components, much like the SoC in a smartphone, thus generating efficiencies. Ultimately the three chipsets are collectively designed to boost both the performance and efficiency of base stations to support the massively increased scale of 5G.

Henri Tervonen, CTO of Nokia Mobile, was predictably pleased with the new chipset family. “With ReefShark, Nokia has created a clear competitive advantage. Its combination of power, intelligence and efficiency make it ideally suited to be at the heart of fast arriving 5G networks.”

The last big Nokia silicon announcement clearly happened before the shark memo was circulated, resulting in the much more prosaically-named FP4 chipset. But Nokia is doing a good job of differentiating itself from its competitors with all of this silicon talk, and we would imagine that having your own, bespoke chipset is quite a handy USP for its sales team to have at its disposal.

In a separate announcement Nokia talked up its Future X architecture for 5G, which includes all the ReefShark cleverness previously described. It looks like Future X is the broader 5G network brand for Nokia, also encompassing the Full Monty of 5G products and services. In fact here they are:

  • Nokia 5G New Radio
  • Nokia AirScale Radio Access
  • Nokia’s 5G AirScale active antennas
  • Nokia’s 5G Small Cells
  • Nokia 5G Anyhaul
  • Nokia 5G Core
  • Nokia Massive Scale Access
  • 5G Acceleration Services

“With our 5G Future X portfolio we are opening up network data and network intelligence to our customers to jointly program and tailor machine learning and automation that runs on our new silicon,” said Marc Rouanne, president of Mobile Networks at Nokia.

“The Future X architecture invented by our Nokia Bell Labs research has made it possible to mix the knowledge across Nokia, between IP, Optics, RF, software and innovative in-house silicon. We now expect to be able to deliver unprecedented capabilities and efficiencies that will allow our customers to transform their service offering for 5G.”

As you can see from that bullet-list, it takes a lot of parts to make an ‘end-to-end 5G solution’ and Nokia seems to be trying to rationalise that messaging process, which is no laughing matter. We’ll leave you with a video about the new chipsets and a documentary on black tip reef sharks going about their apex predator business.