Wireless/DSP Newsletter

by Will Strauss

Indoor GPS: The Next Big Thing?

Although Apple made a splash by announcing purchase of Palo Alto-based WifiSLAM, they aren’t the only indoor GPS player.  I’ve seen demos of indoor GPS from CSR and Broadcom and there are others in the game. Nokia Research Labs, for example, has been developing a Bluetooth 4.0 approach. Google already offers indoor mapping for locations such as airports, shopping malls, casinos, sports venues and even museums through its crowdsourced Indoor Maps project.Nokia, Samsung Electronics, Sony and Qualcomm formed the In-Location Alliance, which will work to improve the accuracy of indoor positioning using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.  The Alliance began last August with just over 20 members and has recently expanded to over 50 members, so the smell of opportunity has become pervasive.

Offloading Application Processors to DSPs

In his latest Inside DSP blog, my colleague Jeff Bier of Berkeley Design Technology Inc. (BDTI) made the observation “If you want that smartphone to run that audio algorithm all day without depleting its battery, you’re going to need to optimize very carefully—and very likely, move your code off the CPU and onto an adjacent DSP core on the SoC, since the DSP is generally capable of more energy-efficient execution of signal processing tasks.”  Well, an easy implementation of that approach is at hand. Tomorrow, CEVA will announce details on its Android Multimedia Framework that will enable such a solution.

New Andes CPU Processor: Alternative to 8051?

Although virtually unknown among CPU licensors, Hsinchu-based Andes Technology Corp. has been shipping its processor IP for eight years now, and even in cellphones.  In cellphones, its application has been largely confined to wireless connectivity and MediaTek is its best known licensee (and also an investor). For example, MediaTek’s MT6628Q combo chip (supporting 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth, GPS and FM Rx/RDS) employs the AndesCore N903.

Today, the company announced its newest, ultra-power-efficient 32-bit processor series: the AndesCore™ N7, codenamed “Hummingbird,” which implements the company’s AndeStar™ V3m architecture in a 2-stage pipeline, making the N7 the most power-efficient member of the Andes family. With only 12K gates, the N7 is said to be an ideal alternative to 8051 and other 8-bit processor cores, while delivering the programmability benefits of a 32-bit processor solution.

Leadcore Licenses CEVA:

Shanghai-based Leadcore Technology Co. Ltd. has licensed CEVA’s DSP technologies and platforms for its “next-generation” mobile devices.  Since we know Leadcore has already announced that LTE modem development is underway, we assume this is for an LTE-A solution.  To-date, Leadcore has been best known as a significant player in China’s TD-SCDMA market and Forward Concepts estimates that for 2012 the company had 19% of the “thin” TD-SCDMA modem market and 7% of the com-processor TD-SCDMA market.

Single-Die multimode LTE Com-processors

Our take is that presently there are only three announced single-die com-processor vendors:

  1. Qualcomm: All Snapdragon 4 devices (now shipping)
  2. Renesas Mobile: MP6530 (now sampling)
  3. Nvidia: Tegra 4i (now sampling)

Certainly, Samsung and Marvell are now shipping LTE com-processors with modem and application processors, but onseparate dies.  And I could say that ST-Ericsson also has such an offering, but now that Ericsson has the modem technology and STMicroelectronics has the application processor offering, it’s a difficult call.

Ericsson says that it will be happy to market its “thin” modem product line without an application processor.  I can only remind readers of my November 2010 newsletter advice to Nvidia (and Texas Instruments) concerning acquisition of Icera if either ever wanted to compete against Qualcomm’s Snapdragon family.  STM may find itself in the OMAP-only mode while Ericsson will be in the former Icera-only mode.

Smartphones Killing Compact Cameras

Following every Mobile World Congress (or 3GSM) for the past 10 years, I’ve taken at least another week of vacation before returning to Phoenix. This year, I spent several days in Puerto Rico (During early March, I tend to avoid any place colder than Barcelona, and I’ve already exhausted my “sane” Mideast locations).  While there, I visited the Arecibo Observatory and its gigantic radio telescope.  There I noticed prominent signs from about a quarter mile away saying toturn off all radio sources, cellphones or otherwise.  So, I tucked away my trusty Nokia Lumia 920 Smartphone and relied on my compact Canon PowerShot camera while at the Observatory.

But, I noticed that a great number of fellow tourists had no traditional cameras and were sneaking their cellphones out to take photos…and trying to hide them from the guides.  Sure, they could have switched their cellphones to Airplane Mode, but even then Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and even NFC could be enabled…and the GHz and better application processors are pumping out measurable radio signals. But, there’s a lesson in this experience.

After leaving Arecibo, I took stock of my own photo experience.  During the entire trip I took at least 5x more photos with my 8.7 MP Lumia than with my 10 MP Canon, for three reasons: 1) Mainly, the Lumia was always handy and 2) it took wider angle pictures that were much more pleasing to my taste and 3) it’s low-light performance was far better (yes, the rave reviews of the Lumia 920 camera are real). The obvious demise of the compact camera in favor of the smartphone camera is probably why the traditional camera makers are now pushing their SLR-type cameras.

As a side note: AT&T also has LTE coverage in Puerto Rico.

Shameless Plug:

clip_image002_0046Our annual detailed report of cellular handsets, tablets and the chips that enable them is in “Comprehensive Cellphone & Tablet Chip Markets’13.” At 641 pages, the report is the most extensive available.  Starting with analysis of the 2012 “core” chips that define a cellular terminal (baseband, apps processor, power management, and RF) followed by the most extensive analysis of “peripheral” chips (like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Mobile TV, NFC, Touch Controllers, Image Sensors, GPS, FM/AM, HDMI, MEMS, etc.). This study explores the dynamics of all these devices and profiles the chip providers and market shares for each of them.

We believe that there is no other cellular chip market study available that has the breadth or depth of coverage of this one. Shipped as PDF only (with enterprise-wide license), discounts are available to those who purchased our study of “core” cellular chip markets earlier this year. Check the website to get an idea of the full extent of this valuable study and all of the components and companies covered: Details are at www.fwdconcepts.com/Cellchip13

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss 
President & Principal Analyst
Forward Concepts
wis@fwdconcepts.com

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