January 15, 2015
By Will Strauss
I must confess that I only attended CES for two days. However, a few things stood out for me there (besides smartphones, wearables and curved TVs):
1) There was a small air force of drones, from one that fit in your hand (for overhead “selfies”) to those that could easily carry a big Amazon package across town. Not only was there a compete section for flying robotics (labeled “unmanned systems”) in one hall, but mesh cages with active drone exhibits were in almost every hall.
2) There were lots of action cameras; not just GoPro’s, but some that appeared to be unabashed copies of GoPro devices. Many action cameras were attachable to drones and some drones featured their own brand of cameras. Helmets and bicycles seemed to be popular attachment destinations, too. I didn’t ask how many action camera users made the “Darwin Awards” last year.
3) Chinese invasion: I counted 16 exhibiting companies whose names began with Shanghai (like Shanghai Tianai Acoustics Co. Ltd.). There were 32 with names beginning with Guangzhou (called Canton by the British). And there were 41 with names beginning with Ningbo (like Ningbo Taina Electronics Company). However, I counted 417 exhibitors whose company names began with Shenzhen (like Shenzhen Along Electronic Co. Ltd.). Of course, there were many more Chinese companies from other cities that exhibited.
I remember in the early ‘80s when Shenzhen was simply a goods-smuggling town close to the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong. Since the late-‘80s, the town has become a big, thriving (and crowded) city with more start-ups than Silicon Valley while Hong Kong has become part of the People’s Republic of China (kind-of).
LG Claims LTE Patent Leadership: A Qualcomm Problem?
LG Electronics said on January 12 that the company has been ranked No. 1 in the world in terms of competitiveness of LTE and LTE-A standard essential patents for 4 years in a row since 2012. That’s according to TechIPm, a US-based consulting company specializing in patents.
As of August 2014, LGE is said to account for 29% of all standard essential patents and was ranked No. 1, followed by Samsung Electronics (16%), Qualcomm(8%), InterDigital (7%), Google (Motorola, 7%) and Nokia (7%). Note that in September 2011, Jefferies & Co. also ranked LGE #1 in essential LTE patents (with 23% of the patent pool), followed by Qualcomm (21%) and 9% each for Motorola Mobility, InterDigital, Nokia and Samsung. It’s interesting to speculate what caused the percentages to change since 2011, if they really did.
It is common knowledge that Qualcomm has held the majority of patents in CDMA and WCDMA and licensing them has been responsible for about half of the company’s annual profits. However, Qualcomm’s patent position in LTE is not nearly as dominant. Consequently, as LTE rises and CDMA/WCDMA diminishes over time, the company’s licensing revenue has to moderate, requiring adjustments to its overhead. And that’s even if its China licensing royalties are negotiated downwards [as is rumored]. These could be reasons for Qualcomm’s recent 600-person layoff.
Sequans Introduces 1st Category 1 LTE Chipset
Sequans Communications S.A. (Paris, France) has announced the Calliope LTE Platform, said to be the world’s first Cat 1 LTE chipset. Cat 1 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. Sequans also offers Cat 4 (150 Mbps) solutions for more conventional wireless devices like tablets and dongles. Modules based on the Calliope platform are said to be available from various module manufacturers beginning in the 2nd quarter of 2015.
LTE is about much more than high speed, as evidenced by the inclusion of Cat 1 in the original 3GPP LTE specification. And there’s a move by 3GPP to define even lower-cost, lower-throughput Cat 0 (1 Mbps) in next year’s Release 12. There are some who see this roadmap as accelerating the trend for operators to shutter 2G and 3G networks and migrate to the more efficient 4G LTE technology.
MediaTek Intros Worldmode Chip
I pointed out in earlier newsletters that MediaTek’s LTE modem was a separate chip (the MT6290) from their 2G/3G modem. However, both their 32-bit and 64-bit LTE SoCs are now single-die solutions. And, the company announced the world’s first 4G octa-core 64-bit SoC (MT6595) based on ARM’s Cortex A17 CPU, also a single die solution. But, the company’s current CDMA solutions are through a separate modem die. However, at CES, the company announced collaboration with Via Telecom to incorporate CDMA technology in their new Worldmode™ chip, providing global roaming of voice and data services across CDMA2000, LTE (TDD and FDD), DC-HSPA+, UMTS, TD-SCDMA and GSM/EDGE networks. It, too, will be a single-die solution. Samples are scheduled for the 4th quarter.
MWC is Coming
Now that CES is over, my schedule for the upcoming Mobile World Congress in Barcelona (March 1-5) is beginning to take shape. It’s likely to be a record turnout, so if you don’t already have reservations (both plane and hotel), the prices will likely be astronomical. But for those who planned ahead, I look forward to seeing you there.
As always, I encourage your feedback.
President & Principal Analyst