eNewsletter – 4/22/16

Intel Woes: Can it Right the Wireless Ship? Last month’s newsletter began with the lament by the late Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel.  His biggest regret that he was never able to get Intel to be significant in communication chips. Judging from the recent wireless executive departures, Andy’s regret remains in place. Also, in last month’s newsletter I mentioned that at Mobile World Congress, emphasis was clearly on its infrastructure product line (read: data centers & C-RAN) and IoT rather than cellphones. With Intel’s recent news release on layoffs and future emphasis on data centers and IoT, the tea leaves were clear. However, I believe that Intel is likely to continue in the cellphone chip business, even though their success to date has been lacking. It actually has some architectural strengths that have not been adequately stressed. For example, Intel was probably the first cellphone chip house to implement MIPI’s LLI (Low Latency Interface). This is an important distinction vs. Qualcomm’s early superiority over competitors due to being able ship an all-in-one single-chip baseband-processor. Intel’s first LLI appeared in its XMM7260 modem used inside of the Samsung Galaxy Alpha smartphone, and was able to eliminate the additional memory module which reduced both component cost and power consumption.  If Intel is ever able to get into an Apple cellphone socket, this may be one reason why. Intel desperately needs a major cellphone customer, and Apple is likely the only one that can quickly improve its poor market share of the LTE baseband chip market. As evident in the chart, Intel’s current market penetration is sorely lacking, since their LTE baseband market share last year was on a par with Chinese company Leadcore. History: Intel’s First Foray into Cellphone Chips It was under CEO Dr. Craig Barratt in 1999 that Intel bragged that “it had become a communications powerhouse” with two acquisitions: Level One Communications ($2.3 Billion), which was a major supplier of DSL chips and Israel-based DSP Communications, Inc. ($1.7 Billion) a major supplier of cellphone modem chips. Like many of its acquisitions, Level One was absorbed into Intel and after a few years eventually disappeared. In 1999, DSP Communications Inc. was the #2 CDMA merchant market modem chip manufacturer (after Qualcomm).  DSPC also had a major market share of the Japanese TDMA cellphone modem market (around 35%, if memory serves), and was also selling in quantity to a...

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eNewsletter – 3/22/2016

Andy Grove: Co-Founder of Intel Dies Dr. Andrew S. Grove died yesterday.  He was the co-founder of Intel Corp., along with Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce.  Andy, as everybody knew him, was very approachable, even when he was CEO of the world’s largest semiconductor company.  I didn’t know Andy well, but we did have a number of conversations, including his regret that he was never able to get Intel to be significant in communication chips.  Maybe his wish will finally be realized under current Intel management. Probably his best technical treatise, “Physics and Technology of Semiconductor Devices” is a classic and has long been my bible on semiconductor processes. I once taught semiconductor processing professionally, and the book was extremely helpful to me. Andy was a giant among giants.  He will be missed. MWC Revisited  This year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was bigger than ever, and with better transportation through the new L9 Metro line going (almost) directly to the Gran Fira congress location. Weather was good the entire time and neither raingear nor heavy jackets were necessary. Clearly IoT was a growing theme by many exhibitors at MWC, with both Intel and Qualcomm providing demonstrations and analyst presentations. Intel has recently more than doubled its Chandler, Arizona IoT group to more than 500 people, supporting the product line’s IoT-centric chips, mostly fabricated in Israel. Intel was clearly emphasizing its infrastructure product line at MWC, supporting data centers and C-RAN trials.  The company demonstrated that they were employing its newly-acquired Altera FPGAs in wireless data equipment…for FFT/IFFT and RF/antenna interface functions…while performing all other Level 1 DSP functions through multiple Xeon processors. Although Intel showed LTE chip allegiance to implementing 3GPP Release 13 functions (like LAA), my overall impression was that LTE modems were not a major emphasis in Barcelona. Qualcomm, on the other hand, was pushing their new Snapdragon 820, with most high-end smartphone vendors around the show demonstrating the 820 in their products. The 820 employ’s Qualcomm’s x12 modem for Cat 12 LTE performance. Noted at the show were Samsung’s new 820-based flagship handsets for the U.S. Market, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. LG introduced the modular G5, which will be powered by Qualcomm’s chip around the world. And Sony introduced their Xperia X Performance smartphone and Xiaomi’s Mi 5 and HP’s Elite x3 all running on the Snapdragon 820 chipset. But there were a...

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eNewsletter – 2/18/2016

Qualcomm Intros World’s 1st Gigabit LTE Modem Last week, Qualcomm announced the first modem to support Gigabit LTE.  The X16 supports LTE-A Pro Category 16 downlink speeds of up to 1 Gbps and Category 13 uplink speeds of 150 Mbps. With the X16, Qualcomm sets the Gigabit modem benchmark, a significant milestone for the entire mobile industry paving the way to 5G.   My more detailed write-up on the new product is in EETimes here. CEVA Enables “X16”-Like Modems Quickly following the Qualcomm announcement, yesterday IP licensor CEVA, Inc. announced its new CEVA-X4 DSP+Control processor targeting high-end basebands for smartphones with the system control capability to manage the entire modem.  When combined with the CEVA-XC4500, the X4 is said to enable next-generation LTE-A Pro modems that can compete with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X16.  No doubt, we’ll see more LTE-A Pro modem solutions rollout this year…perhaps even next week at Mobile World Congress.       New Low-Power Memory for IoT Products   Adesto Technologies Corp. is shipping what it claims to be the world’s lowest-power non-volatile memory device. Adesto offers CBRAM® (Conductive Bridging RAM) which is billed as the 1st commercial Resistive RAM product. CBRAM forms and dissolves a conductive link between two electrodes. Unlike Flash, no pre-erase is required. It employs a CMOS-compatible 2-mask process and is said to offer lower energy than Flash. Additionally, CBRAM uses lower write voltages and faster write operations compared to Flash. The technology is available as Moneta™ discrete devices designed as companion chips for Ultra Low Energy IoT Systems. It is also available as Mavriq™ serial memory.  CBRAM is said to offer longer battery life with smaller batteries or even no batteries since it has the ability to power from an energy harvesting source. Adesto’s Target Battery Operations or Energy Harvesting Applications Beacons in retail stores Commercial building sensors (external memory for OTA for wireless sensor nodes) Home medical monitoring and other sterilized medical equipment Hazardous/remote locations sensors Bluetooth low energy devices (with/without OTA updates) Applications using harvested energy from environment (e.g. solar, thermal electric – body heat, electromagnetic, and vibration energy) Data logging applications MWC Looms Next Monday, tens of thousands of wireless engineers, programmers, and executives (and their entourages) will converge on Barcelona for the world’s biggest and most influential wireless event, Mobile World Congress ’16.  Of course hundreds of reporters and a few dozen industry analysts like me will also...

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eNewsletter – 1/26/2016

MWC’16 Next month, Mobile World Congress, the premier conference and exhibition of the wireless industry will again be in Barcelona (2/22-2/25). It promises to be the biggest yet.  Although focus will be on the big smartphone chip suppliers, the show is broadening beyond cellular to include multiple forms of connectivity, increasingly for automotive applications. Witness Here the mapmaker which was formerly part of Nokia—it’s now owned by German auto makers Audi, BMW and Daimler. But other transportation markets are still addressed. For example, last week Here announced that it has been chosen by the U.S. Census Bureau to provide high grade map content to enhance the agency’s comprehensive portfolio of geographic information. I’ve personally used Nokia/Here maps on my Nokia cellphones in a dozen or more countries and they were spot on except for missing a few small towns in central Turkey and the map of Syria was intentionally misleading (and I was probably the last American tourist to leave Syria). But, back to the show.  My personal MWC schedule is filling fast and should be full by the end of this week.  From a logistics standpoint the biggest change in Barcelona is the new Metro L9 stop beneath the Fira.  The L9 can take you there directly to/from the airport or to/from the Zona Universitaria station (which connects to my L3 line), bypassing Espanya and that long walk to the sardine-packed trains. Huawei tops Xiaomi to Become #1 China Smartphone Maker Huawei became the first Chinese smartphone maker to pass the 100 million mark in a given year.  The company’s 108 million devices shipped in 2015 marked a 44% increase over the prior, also posting a 70% revenue growth to $20 billion in 2015.  Xiaomi, its main China competitor, shipped 72 million last year. This is certainly good news for Cadence Design Systems, since multiple Tensilica DSP cores are in every Huawei smartphone.  The #2 Tensilica DSP modem client is Intel for their LTE modems (Intel’s 2G/3G modems are based on CEVA DSP cores). Enterprise Electronics Gets Interesting From my colleague Jonathan Goldberg of D/D Advisors “While the Consumer Electronics (CE) Market always gets more attention, for this analyst the CE market has become dull. By contrast the market for Enterprise Electronics (EE) is poised to see significant changes in its corporate makeup. Changing customer buying patterns (i.e. 20 webscale companies buying ~30% of the industry’s output) and...

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eNewsletter – 11/23/15

CEVA Announces XC5 & XC8 DSPs for M2M/IoT This week, CEVA introduced two new power- and cost-optimized communication processors designed specifically to address the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) applications. The CEVA-XC5 and CEVA-XC8 DSP vector processors are the smallest and most power-efficient members of the CEVA-XC architecture, supporting the full range of emerging cellular protocols such as LTE MTC Cat-1, Cat-0 or Cat-M, as well as the suite of Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) standards such as Lora, SigFox and Ingenu. Improvements in the CEVA-XC architecture have resulted in a 20% memory size reduction and the capability to allow multiple PHYs and MACs to run concurrently on the same processor with much reduced overhead. The XC5 is 40% smaller than any previous generation CEVA-XC processor and deploys an IoT-optimized Power Scaling Unit (PSU) which enables it to achieve up to 70% lower dynamic power consumption. The CEVA-XC5 and CEVA-XC8 DSPs come with complete DSP, LTE and legacy cellular software libraries, as well as a unified software development environment. The processors are available for licensing today. Qualcomm Launches Cat 1 LTE Modems As the leader in LTE-Advanced smartphone modems, and having recently introduced high-end 600 Mbps Cat 12 modems, Qualcomm has now introduced modems for the 10 Mbps-class IoT market.  Cat 1 modem chips are said to be ideal for wearables and IoT/M2M devices since their 10 Mbps downlink (& 5 Mbps UL) is more than adequate for such ultra-low-power applications. The Qualcomm MDM9206 Cat 1 modem follows Sequans and Altair in that market segment.  At the September CTIA conference, Sequans was demonstrating its Calliope LTE Platform in a network trial with T-Mobile and Altair was showing its FourGee-1160/6401 Cat 1 platform with Ericsson. So, it appears that Qualcomm has some catching up to do in this emerging market. Eran Eshed, Co-founder of Altair said that “…some Cat 1 chips are simply rebranded higher-category chips that are functionally compatible with Cat 1, but fall short on power consumption and die size. Since Qualcomm has yet to release detailed specifications on the MDM9206, we cannot comment as to whether Altair’s statement is applicable to Qualcomm’s chip or to others soon to be announced. Qualcomm also announced the MDM9207-1 which supports the upcoming narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) technology defined in 3GPP Release 13 and packs more horsepower and is intended for heavier IoT applications such as smart metering, security...

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