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 number of other smartphones sporting the 820.

Qualcomm Takes Umbrage to CEVA Enabling “X16”-Like Modems

At MWC’16, Qualcomm also introduced its next-generation X16 LTE modem chips, with features that are probably a year ahead of their competitors.

Qualcomm pointed out that the quickly-following intellectual property offerings of CEVA’s (mentioned in my last newsletter) were a long way from enabling “X16”-like modem capability.  But, I believe that most people in the industry understand that CEVA is offering a platform for its licensees to exploit by adding a number of man-years of software, not a shipping chip product.

Now-Shipping IoT LTE Chips

At MWC, I met with both Sequans and Altair (recently purchased by Sony), both shipping IoT LTE Cat 1 chips in quantity and both plan to ship Cat M1 (formerly Cat M), and Cat M2 (formerly called Narrow Band-IoT) chips.  Both companies agree that Cat 0 will not emerge since the upcoming 3GPP Release 13 specifications have provided alternate solutions for narrow-band LTE.  As mentioned above, both Intel and Qualcomm are also addressing this market, but Altair and Sequans have the early sockets and plan to continue their market momentum.

LTE M2M Channel Speeds

LTE Category Channel Bandwidth Downlink Speed Uplink Speed Comments
Cat 1 20 MHz 10 mbps 5 mbps FDD
Cat M1 1.4 MHz 300 kbps 375 kbps ½ Duplex FDD
Cat M2 200 kHz 40 kbps 55 kbps ½ Duplex FDD

There are other narrow-band IoT communication solutions, principally proprietary SigFox and LoRa, which tend to be regional in coverage. They operate in unlicensed spectrum and require their own infrastructure.  There are other proposed alternatives, like Extended Coverage GSM (EC-GSM) or EC-EGPRS, but have spectrum retirement issues and are yet to gain significant followings. The LTE solutions have the advantage of growing global LTE coverage.

And, here’s a thought: some of the working and worthy LTE modems that have been removed from the market because of unavailable cellphone sockets, like Ericsson, Broadcom/Renesas, and Marvell, may have an opportunity to get back into the cellular user equipment market through IoT offerings.  Of course it would require some new investment, but open up new (non-cellphone) market possibilities for their moribund LTE designs.

As always, I encourage your feedback.

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

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