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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eNewsletter – 10/14/15

Intel Acquires CDMA Modem Assets from Via Telecom Finally, Intel realized that it cannot be a major player in the LTE modem market unless it also has a CDMA capability.  CDMA is required for any smartphone on Verizon’s huge network (and for China Telecom–paired with LTE–and some networks in Taiwan, Korea and elsewhere).  So on October 1, 2015, the CDMA assets of Via Telecom were acquired by Intel. That earlier lack of CDMA capability may be behind ASUSTeK’s decision earlier this year to drop Intel’s LTE modem for Qualcomm’s.  That certainly had to be a disappointment, since ASUSTeK is Intel’s largest customer for PC motherboards and has also been its largest cellphone customer. Until now, only Qualcomm and MediaTek have fielded “World Modems” that can be in just about any smartphone, worldwide.  Qualcomm invented CDMA and MediaTek was smart enough to earlier incorporate Via Telecom’s CDMA modem in its LTE product line (which has paid off handsomely for them at China Telecom). What’s more, the rumors last quarter of Intel’s LTE modems getting into some percentage of next year’s iPhones didn’t take into account that most iPhones must also have a CDMA capability.  Now that Intel seems to have solved that omission, maybe the iPhone/Intel modem rumors will pop up again. As an aside, the Via Telecom CDMA modems are based on licensed CEVA DSP cores, as are Intel’s current 2G/3G basebands (that are also integral to its LTE modems). We expect to see first silicon in 1H/16. Qualcomm Announces Upgraded X12 LTE Modem Qualcomm announced that it has upgraded its X12 LTE modem to be employed in the upcoming Snapdragon 820.  The upgraded X12 LTE supports 3GPP Category 12 downlink speeds of up to 600 Mbps and Cat 13 uplink speeds of up to 150 Mbps. That is compared to the initial announcement of Cat 10 450 Mbps downlink and 100 Mbps uplink speeds. Not only that, the X12 also offers tri-band Wi-Fi at 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 60 GHz. And to tie that in with LTE, the device handles LTE-U and LWA (LTE and Wi-Fi Link Aggregation).  The modem also features cognitive link selection of Wi-Fi or LTE, whichever offers the best communication.  Qualcomm calls this feature its Zeroth™ Platform. As one would expect, the X12 modem also supports voice over LTE (VoLTE) and video over LTE (ViLTE). The X12 is clearly the most advanced LTE...

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eNewsletter – 9/17/15

Intel Gets into the Audio DSP Business From information gleaned from last month’s Intel Developer Forum (IDF), it’s clear that Intel is serious about making DSP chips for speech and audio. Intel’s “Audio Offload Engines (a Hardware DSP)” is touted as providing audio, voice and speech experiences and acoustic innovation…for the PC and tablet market. In addition, Intel offers speaker improvement though “integrated offload engine (a Hardware DSP)” with firmware and software open to third parties. Intel freely admits that offloading audio functions to specialty DSP chips is the best way to reduce power consumption (compared to performing the same functions on an X86 processor). Intel also introduced the Firmware Development Kit for its Audio Offload Engine. Although not explained, Intel dropped the hint that the DSP silicon will be based on Tensilica’s Xtensa engine.  It also appears that this Audio Offload Engine will be a co-packaged chip with Intel’s next-generation Skylake microarchitecture. Qualcomm Expands Hexagon DSP offerings Traditionally, Qualcomm has been the leader in cellphone DSP and in the upcoming Snapdragon 820, three new Hexagon™ DSPs are employed for maximum performance and efficiency. First, the 820’s powerful modem DSP enables the company’s X12 global multimode LTE carrier-aggregation modem capability, initially enabling 3GPP Category 10 operation for 450 Mbps downlink and 100 Mbps uplink speeds. Through its new Compute DSP Snapdragon 820 introduces new premium tier user experiences including advanced photography, computer vision, VR and machine learning while simultaneously lowering system power requirements by eliminating energy intensive CPU tasks, shifting to the more efficient compute-optimized Hexagon 680 DSP.  The 680 features the HVX vector extensions coprocessor for Low Power Compute, Audio, Voice, Advanced Image/Video Processing and Computer Vision. The 680 DSP is a highly efficient multithreaded programmable compute engine that enables concurrent execution of audio and imaging tasks. An important sensor hub capability is provided through the 820’s Low Power Island, which employs a very low power independent DSP that acts as a sensor hub for positioning, acceleration and more.  As a dedicated lower power island with always-on capability drastic power savings accrue over employing the CPU for such functionality. The Snapdragon 820 begins early sampling through the last half of this year and is slated to ship in consumer devices in the first half of 2016. iPhone 6s will Keep Apple Ahead This week, Apple introduced several things, but our main interest is in the new iPhone 6s...

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eNewsletter – 8/19/15

ITU makes it Official: 5G is IMT-2020 In addition, the ITU vision and roadmap for the 5G standard defines 5G as networks capable of transmitting data at up to 20 Gbps. In addition, the ITU has declared that 5G networks will have a capacity to provide over 100 Mbps data rates to over 1 million IoT devices within one square kilometer. Unfortunately, nobody knows how we will get to these performance figures. Presumably, the technology will become available about the year 2020.  However, I doubt that will be achieved since LTE Carrier aggregation will continue growing network capabilities over the next 5 years and beyond. See chart below. Note that only one U.S. network (Sprint) has fielded Cat 6 on a general rollout. China Telecom Rolls out World’s Largest FDD-LTE Network On August 1st, China Telecom announced that it has completed construction 460,000 LTE base stations in 17 cities, providing it with the world’s largest FDD-LTE network. What’s more, the network has adopted carrier aggregation technology for Category 6 (Cat 6) LTE-A operation (300 Mbps down link and 50 Mbps up link). Of course, having a Cat 6 network requires smartphones capable of Cat 6 LTE-A operation. Currently, U.S. cellphones with that capability employ only Qualcomm modems, but its competitors have “announced” chips with that capability, but none have been observed shipping in Cat 6-capable cellphones…yet. LTE MODEM CLASSES Modem Class Peak Throughput Speeds Carrier Aggregation CAT 10 450 Mbps DL 100 Mbps UL 3×20 MHz DL 2×20 MHz UL CAT 9 450 Mbps DL 50 Mbps UL 3×20 MHz DL CAT 7 300 Mbps DL 100 Mbps UL 2×20 MHz DL 2×20 MHz UL CAT 6 300 Mbps DL 50 Mbps UL 2×20 MHz DL CAT 4 150 Mbps DL 50 Mbps UL 2×10 MHz DL Marvell Claims First to Launch Inexpensive Rel. 10 LTE Modem This week Marvell announced a “cost-effective” LTE-A platform with carrier aggregation with 20+20 MHz support for Cat 7 operation (see chart). The quad-core (1.5 GHz) 64-bit ARMADA Mobile PXA1918 features an ARM Cortex-A53 processor and supports all cellular standards except CDMA. Also announced this week was AT&T data and voice (VoLTE) validation of Marvell’s ARMADA PXA1928 (1.5 GHz) and PXA1908 (1.2 GHz) multimode Cat 4 LTE solutions. Both platforms also feature quad Cortex-A53 processors. Qualcomm Completes CSR Acquisition Cambridge Silicon Radio Ltd. has become Qualcomm Technologies International Ltd. The $2.4 billion acquisition...

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eNewsletter – 7/17/15

Cellphone Market Shrinks in 1st Half: Layoffs Loom The cellphone market shrank in early 2015 for the first time in six years, with low single-digit growth predicted for 2H15. Consequently, layoffs are rumored for several cellphone-related companies, including chip market leader Qualcomm.  We’ll know next week at its quarterly report announcement, but rumors are of 4,000 jobs in jeopardy after a 1,400-person layoff last December. But Qualcomm is not alone.  Microsoft, is said to be shedding some 7,800 people over the next several months, many associated with its Lumia cellphone business. Marvell Scales Back LTE Modem Business With the announcements last week of the closure its Austin, Texas design facility and its wireless operations in Israel, Marvell Technology Group has signaled a major overhaul of its LTE modem business.  Although the company’s well-regarded multimode PXA1908 LTE modem solution has been shipping in volume, apparently not in high enough volume to keep the 100s of engineers on board. Presumably, the company’s Shanghai design center will take up the slack. Our contacts in Israel indicate that many of the now-surplus engineers (close to 100) are finding positions with Intel and Huawei there.  Hopefully, many of the Austin layoffs (about 50) will find positions at Qualcomm, Freescale/NXP or Silicon Laboratories in that city. Sadly, Marvell has found, as did Broadcom, that the 4G modem business is now firmly in the hands of a few companies. Besides Marvell, the current announced multimode LTE modem players are HiSilicon, Intel, Leadcore, MediaTek, Qualcomm, Samsung and Spreadtrum. Sprint: First Live LTE Carrier Aggregation in U.S. This week, Sprint became the first U.S. cellular carrier to roll out live 2x carrier aggregation (CA) in the U.S.  This CA move enables 300 Mbps peak downlink speeds and 10 Mbps uplink speeds (CAT 6). That’s twice as fast as current 4G networks. Twenty-nine cities are in the initial roll-out, with more to follow. But, having a carrier that provides CAT 6 (or better) operation also requires LTE-A smartphones. Qualcomm leads the pack in LTE-A modem chips and they seem to be in most of the Sprint’s current CA smartphone lineup: Samsung Galaxy S6 Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Samsung Galaxy Note Edge LG G Flex 2 LG G4 HTC One M9 ZTE Hot Spot Canada has already begun CAT 6 operation through at least two carriers. Other U.S. carriers have indicated that they will begin offering CA capability later this...

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eNewsletter – 6/17/15

Samsung Demos World’s First Public Safety LTE Net PS-LTE (Public Safety LTE) may become the next solution for first responders and public safety applications. Samsung has introduced push to talk technology that allows team captains to rapidly call many people at once and also employs eMBMS technology that transfers HD images to many terminals, even when crowds are in disaster areas.  In addition, the company introduced device-to-device technology that supports communication between units even when base stations are destroyed by a disaster.  Currently, only Korean partners are participating, but if it lives up to its promise, global implementation could follow. DoCoMo first to open VoLTE net for Global Certification trials Japan’s NTT DoCoMo has become the first member of the Global Certification Forum (GCF) to open up a VoLTE network for field trials. The forum is considered the de facto standard for device certification for 3GPP/2 technologies – GSM, 3G/UMTS, LTE and CDMA2000. The move aligns with the forum’s goal of encouraging mobile device manufacturers to verify the interoperability of their devices with VoLTE commercial networks. Although there are already several VoLTE network rollouts, interoperability with other networks will likely require GCF certification. SIGFOX: M2M/IoT Shadow Cellular Network France-based SIGFOX has ambitious plans to eventually rollout a global cellular network that occupies local ISM bands (868 MHz in Europe and 902 MHz in the US) for Ultra Narrow Band operation for low-throughput devices (up to 140 messages per day, each with up to 12 bytes of payload data). They plan for their own towers and base stations and have pilot networks deployed in a few European locations. The first M2M networks that I encountered many years ago employed the GSM signaling channel for low-bit-rate transmission.  At the time, occasionally monitoring the liquid level in port-city petroleum tanks was the main application. SIGFOX envisions many more applications, including agriculture, healthcare, intelligent buildings, automotive and home meter monitoring (watch out ZigBee). The company claims to have raised €100 million and is now looking for solutions enablers, who can use SIGFOX either to replace existing connectivity such as Mesh networks or GSM, or to create entirely new and innovative applications. Samsung is an investor and is said to be incorporating SIGFOX’s network technology into Artik, its platform of integrated hardware, software and tools for developing on IoT objects. SIGFOX is solely dedicated to the transport of messages and is therefore completely independent of application-specific hardware...

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