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.

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.

Qualcomm upgrades its 5G modem

Mobile chip maker Qualcomm has unveiled its big MWC news early, in the form of the X55 5G modem, which is five better than its predecessor.

The new modem supports both flavours of 5G as well as all the older Gs and all the spectrum bands you could possibly want. It’s manufactured on a 7nm process and promises download speeds of 7 Gbps and 3 Gbps uploads speeds. The previous X50 modem only managed a mere 4 Gbps. Even the Cat 22 LTE part manages 2.5 Gbps download.

“With significant evolution in capabilities and performance, our second generation commercial 5G modem is a true testament to the maturity and leadership of our 5G technology,” said Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon. “We expect our 5G platform to accelerate 5G commercial momentum and power virtually all 5G launches in 2019 while significantly expanding the global 5G rollout footprint.”

That ‘virtually all 5G launches’ claim could be challenged in as little as a week. We may well see some 5G handset launches at Mobile World Congress and one of the biggest smartphone vendors – Huawei – has already launched its own 5G modem. Apple doesn’t bother with MWC but has indicated it would sooner make a bonfire out of iPhones then even be in the same room as Qualcomm.

Seeking modem autonomy is perfectly understandable but Qualcomm reckons it’s pretty far ahead of the chasing pack when it comes to the tech. Huawei’s speed claims don’t seem too far off Qualcomm’s but it’s not yet known how they compare when it comes to size, power efficiency, etc. And apart from Huawei and Apple Qualcomm will probably own the rest of the 5G market.

Snapdragon X55 claims to be the first announced modem to support 100 MHz envelope tracking technology, and adaptive antenna tuning for 5G sub-6 GHz, designed for power-efficient connectivity. Qualcomm can also presumably offer it integrated into the Snapdragon 855 SoC and thus cater to all your mobile chip needs. Here’s a vid.

 

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.

Huawei goes all-in on AI with Mate 10 smartphones

Having set the scene with the unveiling of its Neural Processing Unit a few weeks ago, Huawei has focused on the AI capabilities it apparently gives its new phones.

Those phones are the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro, which we might previously have called phablets due to their 6-inch screen size. Huawei’s latest devices have all the bells and whistles you would expect from a flagship smartphone, but the Chinese giant seems to think it has found a rare point of differentiation with the chip.

The Kirin 970 SoC is Huawei’s own design with a fair bit of help from ARM, which provided the four Cortex A73 and four Cortex A53 CPU cores and the Mali-G72 MP12 GPU that go into every one. Unique to this chip, however is the NPU (neural network processing unit – so technically NNPU), which Huawei says enables the chip to provide 25x better performance and 50x greater energy efficiency for AI-related tasks, compared to one with just four Cortex-A73 cores.

A proper comparison would be between the Kirin 970 and an octacore SoC that also has four Cortex A53 cores. They are the low-power options in ARM’s bigLITTLE architecture, so the effect on energy efficiency is likely to be especially pronounced.

Anyway, Huawei chose not to make that comparison for reasons best known to them. The other elephant in the room is the question of why greater processing power and efficiency is something we need. Are AI-related tasks especially taxing on a chip? And surely most AI-related stuff on a phone, such as smart assistants, is processed in the cloud anyway.

“As we enter the age of intelligence, AI is no longer a virtual concept but something that intertwines with our daily life,” said Richard Yu, CEO, Huawei Consumer Business Group. “AI can enhance the user experience; provide valuable services and improve product performance. The Huawei Mate 10 Series introduces the first mobile AI-specific Neural Network Processing Unit, launching a new era of intelligent smartphones.”

The vanilla Mate 10 will cost €699 and the Pro, which seems to only be a minor upgrade, will cost €799 when they go on sale in a few weeks. If, for some reason, you feel like spending €1395 instead you can get one with Porsche written on it.

Huawei mate 10 porsche