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October 14, 2015

By Will Strauss

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 modem in the world and is part of Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 820 processor but is also available as a separate discrete modem.

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.

Now there is “Cellphones as a Service” (CaaS)

Software as a Service (SaaS) has been gaining popularity over the past couple of years, and Microsoft’s Office 365 is a prime example. Instead of purchasing Microsoft’s Office suite software (with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) for a fixed price, now Microsoft also offers Office 365 as a service which is priced as low as $6.99/month. So, in essence, you are “renting” the software as a service.

Now, there appears to be Cellphones as a Service (CaaS) on the horizon. Apple now offers through its own stores the iPhone 6s and related products under its “iPhone Upgrade Program”, which gets the consumer iPhones (and iPads, etc.) starting at $32/month…under a 2-year contract. And the consumer gets a new iPhone every year along with its Apple Care plan. That’s certainly more palatable than plucking down $600 or $700 for your new smartphone. Oh yes, Samsung is rumored to be looking into a similar smartphone leasing program. And U.S. carriers seem to be moving away from smartphone subsidies, so the two trends are tracking.

Texas Instruments Fields Powerful SoC for Real-Time Processing & Multimedia

Today, TI announced its Sitara™ AM57x processor line based on a pair of ARM Cortex A-15 CPUs, a pair of C66x DSPs for compute horsepower and an array of real-time control cores. The control cores include a pair of Cortex-M4s and up to 4 proprietary programmable real-time units (called PRUs). Up to a total of 10 programmable cores on the same die with internal shared RAM along with video and graphics acceleration cores.

TI claims the Sitara AM57x processors provide the industry’s most advanced integration of compute, real-time control, connectivity and multimedia capabilities, allowing developers to simplify their designs with a single chip instead of needing multiple chips for each function. This integration is said to be ideal for applications involving industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), factory automation, machine vision, embedded computing, human machine interface (HMI), robotics, medical imaging, avionics and more. Samples of AM57x processors and evaluation modules are now available from TI and its authorized distributors.

No, Qualcomm is Not Going after the Server Market

After Qualcomm announced its 24-core ARM based CPU as a “Server Development Platform” the blogosphere became saturated with articles claiming that the company was on a collision course with Intel, the dominant company in server chips. Well, they are on a collision course, but not the one that most of the articles point to.

Qualcomm knows that going directly against the traditional X86 cloud server market with an ARM-based solution has not been successful for AMD, Applied Micro and others. However, it’s a mistake to think that is Qualcomm’s strategy.

Rather, in my opinion, the company is going after the market they know best: wireless. And future wireless will require Cloud RAN solutions which move baseband processors from several cellular base stations to fiber-connected central servers with baseband processing for many channels.

That’s where Qualcomm’s partnership with FPGA giant Xilinx comes in…to perform the blazingly fast DSP functions necessary for such centralized baseband operations. That’s why Intel is buying Xilinx’ biggest FPGA competitor, Altera. Yes, C-RAN requires server development, but not for the same servers employed by the likes of Facebook and Google (Alphabet).

The biggest market for C-RAN will be China and Intel is already dabbling in prototype development with both Chinese and Korean carriers. However, one of the China carriers I spoke with said that that they like the idea of ARM servers (as opposed to X86 servers) for C-RAN because of the potentially much lower power consumption…and China has a tight power budget for years to come. Although Intel has an early toehold in that market, Qualcomm has a stronger wireless history and many connections in China, too.

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss

President & Principal Analyst

Forward Concepts

Domain: Electronics
Category: Mobile
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