Intel brings forward launch of 5G modem in bid to silence doubters

Apple’s decision to go all-in on Intel modems comes with a lot of pressure, so Intel is desperate to convince us it’s up to the task.

A week ago reports appeared to confirm that Apple’s first 5G phones will come in 2020 and will exclusively use Intel modems. Telecoms.com was among the commentators asking whether or not this would turn out to be a rash decision by Apple, with rival Qualcomm expected to be ahead in the 5G modem race.

Intel seems to have taken this scepticism as a personal challenge and has consequently announced it will now be launching it more than half a year sooner than previously thought. The Intel XM 8160 5G modem will now be released into the wild in the second half of 2019, although there’s nothing in the announcement to indicate it will power an iPhone that soon, with the September 2020 models still the likely recipients.

In fact Intel says the earliest you will see it in devices is in the first half of 2020, which does beg the question of whether this ‘bringing forward’ of the launch is purely cosmetic. Could Intel have merely tweaked the definition of ‘launch’ to allow for some kind of meaningless soft-launch six months earlier. Maybe Qualcomm will retaliate with a similar move.

“Intel’s new XMM 8160 5G modem provides the ideal solution to support large volumes for scaling across multiple device categories to coincide with broad 5G deployments” said Cormac Conroy, GM of Intel’s Communication and Devices Group. “We are seeing great demand for the advanced feature set of the XMM 8160, such that we made a strategic decision to pull in the launch of this modem by half a year to deliver a leading 5G solution.”

The fact that the XMM 8160 is ‘multimode’, supporting 5G NR in SA and NSA modes across multiple frequencies, as well as legacy wireless standards is something Intel is keen to flag up. So much so it did a special diagram.

The Intel XMM 8160 5G modem will offer very clear improvements in power, size and scalability in a package that will be smaller than a U.S. penny. It will be released in the second half of 2019, and it will support the new standard for 5G New Radio (NR) standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) modes as well as 4G, 3G and 2G legacy radios in a single chipset. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

Samsung details its foldable display plans

Tech giant Samsung reckons there might be a market for a foldable phone that turns into a tablet.

Samsung has been banging on about flexible displays for years, but it has always been teased in a vague, utopian way. Just imagine a world in which devices can bend, they invited us to do on an annual basis, without going to far as to actually detail the practical benefits of such a thing. There was even talk of rollable displays that we could unfurl like a high-tech scroll.

But now, finally, all this talk has coalesced into an actual product: the Infinity Flex Display. It was revealed at Samsung’s developer conference in San Francisco, together with a concept smartphone that unfolds into a tablet and a new version of Samsung’s Android user interface called One UI.

“Samsung continues to build on its legacy of category-defining form factor and display innovation that has paved the way for a breakthrough foldable smartphone form factor,” said the supporting announcement. “The Infinity Flex Display together with One UI delivers a new kind of mobile experience allowing users to do things they couldn’t do with an ordinary smartphone.

“Users now have the best of both worlds: a compact smartphone that unfolds to reveal a larger immersive display for multitasking and viewing content. The app experience seamlessly transitions from the smaller display to the larger display as the device unfolds. In addition, users can browse, watch, connect and multitask without losing a beat, simultaneously using three active apps on the larger display.”

Clearly Samsung understands that just enabling novel form factors alone won’t achieve much; it needs to catalyse an ecosystem that develops applications and functions designed to make use of its unique qualities. Merely making use of the greater screen real estate would be unremarkable, but enabling a smooth transition between smartphone and tablet mode while, for example, watching a video might be handy.

A short video of the announcement can be seen in the Samsung tweet below, followed by one from veteran consumer tech hack Vlad Savov, which illustrates some of the challenges Samsung will face in turning its flexible display technology into something people will want. Lastly there’s an infographic from Samsung detailing how great it is at mobile displays, for anyone not already convinced of that.

 

sdc2018_mobile-display-innovation

Apple reportedly plans to use Intel 5G modem in 2020, but will it be any good?

Apple has boxed itself into a corner by going to war with Qualcomm, so a lot rides on the competitiveness of Intel’s 5G modem.

Fast Company has reported that Apple intends to use the Intel 8161 5G modem in its 2020 iPhones as part of its already-known strategy of switching to Intel as its sole provider of modems. This move seems to be largely driven by Apple’s dispute with Qualcomm over how much it charges for its chips.

When large companies declare legal war on each other the dispute usually metastasises as their respective legal teams search for further dirt they can use as leverage in the ongoing negotiations. These things usually conclude in an out-of-court settlement, the terms of which are largely determined by the relative legal strength of the respective positions.

The more likely one party is to win a court case, the stronger its position in the pre-case negotiation, which is why Qualcomm has been so keen to prove that Apple committed industrial espionage in sharing Qualcomm trade secrets with Intel in order to help it produce better modems.

While Qualcomm’s most recent court filing broadly outlines fresh allegations resulting from the discovery process, conversations we had at its recent event in Hong Kong suggested Qualcomm has got hold of emails that prove the alleged passing on of protected intellectual property took place.

If Apple did indeed offer Intel a helping hand, something that Intel denies, then the clear inference is that Intel’s modems were of insufficient quality without cheating. A worst case scenario might be that the 5G modems Apple apparently intends to use would be declared illegal, but even if that doesn’t happen there will be questions over the 5G performance of those iPhones versus phones running Qualcomm modems.

So, assuming this rumour is accurate, a hell of a lot is riding on those first Intel 5G modems. If they’re rubbish then not only will that be a direct competitive win for Qualcomm, but the sales and reputation of the iPhone are likely to suffer too. In its desire to dominate its suppliers Apple is forcing itself to make some technology choices that may be far more costly than any money saved on components.

Intel triggered into joining Qualcomm Apple spat

Qualcomm has accused Intel of cheating at modems with Apple’s help, but Intel’s weak public riposte is unlikely to sway much opinion in its favour.

Judging by the general quality of their press releases all three of the companies involved in this spat refuse to issue a single public utterance until every syllable has been pored over by battalions of lawyers. As a consequence, when they decide to slag each other off via the media the result falls pretty far short of Wildean in its wit.

To be fair to Qualcomm, its latest allegations weren’t strictly public, although you have to wonder what the source of the court filing leak that resulted in the rest of the world knowing about it was. Essentially Qualcomm is questioning how Apple was able to replace its modems with Intel ones in the latest iPhones and figured it must have given Intel trade secrets to ensure its modems were up to the job.

Intel’s General Counsel Steven Rodgers posted a riposte entitled ‘Qualcomm’s Rhetoric Pierced’, which promised all kinds of rebuttals, refutations and rebukes but instead delivered a disappointingly generic whinge that amounted to ‘how dare you?’ It started fairly promisingly with a round up of all the fines Qualcomm has been hit with over the past couple of years for violating competition laws.

But then it degenerated into a general purpose moan about how unfair the allegations are when everyone at Intel works really hard, actually. “We are proud of our engineers and employees who bring the world’s best technology solutions to market through hard work, sweat, risk-taking and great ideas,” pouted Rodgers. “Every day, we push the boundaries of computing and communication technologies. And, the proof is in the pudding: Last year, the U.S. Patent Office awarded more patents to Intel than to Qualcomm.”

The correct form of the proverb is ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’, but if Intel chooses to keep its patents inside some form of dessert, who are we to judge? “For the most part, we have chosen, and will continue to choose, to respond to Qualcomm’s statements in court, not in public,” said Rogers, showing the acute judgment that you would expect of a senior Lawyer. Qualcomm has yet to publicly respond.

Qualcomm points the industrial espionage finger at Apple

The long-running legal battle between Qualcomm and Apple has been stepped up a level as the chipmaker effectively accuses the iLeader of industrial espionage.

After Apple released the iPhone XS without a shred of Qualcomm technology inside, it was only going to be a matter of time before there was a reaction. In a filing with the Superior Court of California, seen by Bloomberg, Qualcomm suggests Apple leaked trade secrets to Intel to overcome performance and develop a more suitable alternative in its chips.

The accusations come as an amendment to a complaint filed in November, which again suggested Apple broke confidentiality agreements by sharing information with Intel. With the trial already scheduled for April 19, if the judge allows this amendment it could push back the courtroom date. Qualcomm are pushing for the timetable to remain the same however.

The filing states:

“Apple has engaged in a years-long campaign of false promises, stealth, and subterfuge designed to steal Qualcomm’s confidential information and trade secrets for the purpose of improving the performance and accelerating the time to market of lower-quality modem chips, including those developed by Intel. Apple used that stolen technology to divert Qualcomm’s Apple-based business to Intel.”

The initial complaint came from Apple blocking Qualcomm attempts to audit the iPhone maker’s use of Qualcomm’s trade secrets. At the time, Qualcomm suspected Apple was leaking information to Intel, though there was little evidence to support the claim. Apple had requested deep access to its software and tools, but with strict limits on how those products could be used. Apple’s reasoning was to improve the performance of the devices when using Qualcomm chips, though this is now being contested.

While this is the latest chapter in the long-running tale which has seen dozen of complaints and counter-claims lodged with the courts, it all comes down to a single issue. Apple believes the royalties charged by Qualcomm to use its technology in its products are too high. The original argument has blossomed into a complex tapestry, offering collateral damage to other companies in the supply chain, but keeping the legal team at both the technology giants in gainful employment.

Apple first began using Qualcomm chips in 2011, before eventually using them exclusively. In 2016, it started using some Intel chips though due to the difference in performance, it was unable to drop Qualcomm completely. After the legal back-and-forth started in early 2017, the relationship continued to deteriorate until the point Apple decided to exclusively use Intel chips in its devices.

While this is certainly a considerable customer for Qualcomm to lose it does not look like the relationship can be repaired. Reading between the lines, Qualcomm does seem to have accepted this and is looking to salvage something from the disastrous ending. For some, this could be seen as more pressure to force Apple into settling outside the courtroom.

That said, Qualcomm’s loss is Intel’s gain. Securing an exclusive supplier relationship with Apple is certainly a win for the business.

No Qualcomm inside the Apple iPhone XS

The latest Apple iPhones are a Qualcomm-free zone according to people who have taken them to pieces.

Technology repair site iFixit did its usual thing of carefully disassembling the new iPhone XS to see what’s inside and there was no sign of Qualcomm. No Qualcomm modem, baseband, RF transceiver or even sensors. There is an NXP NFC controller though (too soon?).

This doesn’t come as a great surprise as the move had been rumoured at the start of this year, when litigation between the two was especially vigorous, and Qualcomm had indicated it feared the worst in a subsequent quarterly call. But this outright snub by the world’s most significant smartphone player is still a pretty negative moment for Qualcomm.

The big beneficiary is Intel, which has been in the modem game since the acquisition of Infineon a few years ago but has struggled to steal significant share from Qualcomm. We wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Intel had almost given its components away to Apple, such is the importance of Apple’s switch to its mobile efforts.

As you can see from the following screenshots of the iPhone XS RF board from the iFixit site there is a complete absence of anything Qualcomm. The logic board is dominated by Apple’s own ARM-based chips, as has been the case for while, but until now Apple  had felt compelled to stick with Qualcomm for radio stuff. It will be interesting to see if users notice any difference in performance.

ifixit iphonexs screen 1

ifixit iphonexs screen 2

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.

Samsung claims first 3GPP-compliant 5G modem

Korean electronics giant Samsung reckons it has edged ahead of Qualcomm in the 5G modem race.

The Exynos Modem 5100 claims to be ‘the industry’s first 5G modem that is fully compatible with 3GPP Release 15’. Qualcomm announced its X50 5G modem some time ago and seemed to have an early monopoly on 5G chips. But with Apple apparently making it clear it won’t be using Qualcomm 5G chips there is a stronger incentive than ever for its competitors to catch up.

“Samsung’s leadership in communication technologies and market-proven knowledge allowed us to develop the industry’s first 5G modem, the Exynos Modem 5100, which fully complies with the latest 3GPP standards,” said Dr. Inyup Kang, president and head of System LSI Business at Samsung Electronics. “As the industry prepares the shift toward 5G, Samsung will continue to drive the growth of innovative ideas and new services in mobile applications and other emerging industries.”

The chip is manufactured on the 10nm process and Samsung has the advantage of owning its own semiconductor fabs. It supports both mmWave and sub-6 GHz spectrum as well as all the legacy wireless technologies. Samsung says it has completed some testing, but doesn’t seem to have released the modem into the wild yet.