Forward Concepts Wireless/DSP Newsletter - Jan 26, 2016

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January 26, 2016

By Will Strauss


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 an explosion in software capabilities has brought about a major shift in competitive advantages in hardware. New companies are popping up, while older companies are steadily consolidating. This has unleashed five forces that will reshape the industry in coming years.” This is the preamble to Jay’s latest on-line Digits to Dollars report #18.

MediaTek Leaks 10-core Helio X20 Specs

The MediaTek Helio X20 applications processor (MT6797) was announced last May for production slated for 2H/16. In “leaked” Geekbench 3 CPU benchmark comparisons, MediaTek reveals:

Helio X20


Kirin 950


Snapdragon 820


Apple A9


But, some of the chips compared are shipping now. And, later this year newer chips, like Qualcomm’s 830, will be announced, so it’s unclear how long the benchmark lead will last. Next month’s MWC will offer more clarity. The best write-up on the Helio X20 capability is by my long-time colleague Majeed Ahmad in

Qualcomm’s Latest China Server-Chip Venture

As mentioned in my earlier newsletters, Qualcomm is very serious about getting into the ARM-based server chip market, obviously challenging the dominance of Intel’s X86 chip technology in that market. In its latest move, Qualcomm has agreed to establish a joint venture with the province of Guizhou. The $280 million initial investment is proportional to the ownership: 55% by the province and 45% by Qualcomm. It’s unclear what the investment funds. After all, a world-class fab would entail several billions of dollars and Guizhou does not have the stable water supply necessary to support such a fab. However, Qualcomm has indicated that it will license server chip technology and provide R&D processes to the joint venture. Consequently, I’ll have to assume that this will be mostly a design venture. But, don’t lose sight of the fact that this is just one of many investments that Qualcomm has in China.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 Shipping; 830 Slated for Early ‘17

At CES earlier this month, Qualcomm announced that the new Snapdragon 820 will first ship in the Le Max Pro smartphone by little-known LeTV But in China the company is well-known and Letv may be the most successful example of a company branching out from its video streaming heritage into everything from smartphones and smart TVs to electric cars over the past few years. And all that hardware is selling pretty well. The company has an 18 percent stake in Chinese phone maker Coolpad and recently Letv sold more than 500,000 smartphones and more than 350,000 smart TVs in a single day as part of a sales event on its Lemall online store. Unlike Xiaomi, Letv plans to also sell its smartphones in the U.S. early this year.

Snapdragon 830 leaks indicate that the chip will sport 8GB of RAM, an enhanced Kryo custom architecture, and fabbed with Samsung’s 10nm process. Obviously, more will be revealed next month at MWC.

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss

President & Principal Analyst

Forward Concepts


Domain: Electronics
Category: Mobile

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