Business, Entertainment, Hardware

Qualcomm Extends Roadmap, Product Lines, Introduces Internet Processor

During their Financial Analyst Day in New York City, Qualcomm made some pretty significant announcements about the company’s products going into 2014. The majority of the announcements were, unsurprisingly, around connectivity. As Qualcomm starts to get more and more competition in the modem space, especially on LTE, they have spent a significant amount of effort to inform the press and analysts of their dominance in this market. Additionally, they want to demonstrate that their leadership is so strong that even lower cost competitors still can’t compete.

One of the most interesting talking points was the talk about carrier aggregation and the utilization of unlicensed spectrum for LTE which hasn’t really been discussed much by anyone as a solution for not enough bandwidth.

As a result of multiple carrier aggregation, users could theoretically experience even greater speeds than ever before, enabling for faster download speeds and less modem traffic time. Following that announcement, Qualcomm then talked about their new fourth generation LTE modem, the MDM 9×35 series. This new Global LTE solution will be Qualcomm’s first 20nm (down from 28nm) modem and will enable Cat. 6 LTE with speeds of up to 301.5 Mbps, which is double the current speed of Cat. 4 LTE being implemented right now. If Qualcomm choses to go with a Cat. 6 modem, then the uplink speeds will still be limited to 51 Mbps much like Cat. 3 and Cat 4. Only until Cat. 7 LTE do we get the opportunity to see up to 102 Mbps uplink speeds.

As you can see below Qualcomm has added quite a few features over the court of the past few years and improved their cadence with each generation. And looking forward, we can see that Qualcomm plans to integrat WLAN and WAN into their modems in order to continue the consolidation of chips within the wireless chipsets.

In addition to the modem announcement, Qualcomm also announced a new SoC, the Snapdragon 805. The Snapdragon 805 is an obvious improvement over the Snapdragon 800. The most notable improvements are H.265 hardware video encoders (as opposed to DSP), the Adreno 420 GPU and gigapixel camera ISP. 

While the details on the Adreno 420 are very sparse, Qualcomm has provided some ballpark figures that we’ll obviously have to take with a grain of salt. They claim that it is the first Ultra HD gaming GPU, but I don’t even know of a single tablet on the market even drives an Ultra HD resolution with a mobile SoC. Perhaps next year, when the SoC is available there will be, but right now I just don’t see that happening or how it will be feasible. Even with a pretty significant 40% expected improvement over the Snapdragon 800’s Adreno 330, I’m not sure we can really expect it to really game in 4K.

But, as always, Qualcomm expects the Adreno 420 GPU to consume less power than its Adreno 330 counterpart, enabling Qualcomm to continue to innovate using what appears to be a better yielding 28nm process from TSMC. Even though Qualcomm is currently stuck on 28nm for the foreseeable future, there is a good chance we will see a 20nm chip next year.

And with the new ISP on the Snapdragon 805, there is built-in support for up to 42 megapixel resolution which could mean that we may see another phone from Microsoft/Nokia using the Lumia 1020’s sensor. All of the other features, like 4K video capture and zero lag shutter already exist on the Snapdragon 800, but some software improvements are clearly there. Especially for potential AR applications with the computational camera capabilities with GPU accelerated OpenCL and Renderscript as well as FastCV for improved computer vision. I believe that there will also be OpenVX support as the standard and the SoC come closer to launch next year.

Last but not least, Qualcomm also launched a chip that they are calling an Internet Processor, but I would prefer to call the network brain chip. This chip is Qualcomm’s first chip that they have developed as a result of their acquisition of Atheros in 2011. This chip combines IP and knowledge from both companies and gives it the best of both companies’ expertise. As a result, this chip is capable of so many things that it almost feels like a laundry list. But the most important things to note are that it will enable some very powerful routers thanks to having a dual core chip with Krait 300 cores. It will also have the ability to enable affordable network attached storage, either through external methods (USB 3.0) or internal methods (SATA or PCIe).

If you look at the block diagram, a few other things stick out. Such as Qualcomm’s dedicated dual-core network accelerator to offload the network traffic from the dual core Krait processor. This will enable the Krait processor to run whatever operating system is on the device far more efficiently and effectively. The support for optional LTE modems also means that we could see carriers starting to sell their own set top boxes to consumers even if they don’t have a physical connection. This could be further enabled by the security engine which would allow for secure encoding and decoding of DRM content over the network. Also, the ability to do Dual-Band WiFi is also a big deal because it will enable some pretty smart and powerful routers.

And last but not least the SATA 3 connectivity which will enable for som
e really great storage solutions. Especially when you consider that right now most routers and network attached storage solutions don’t do much more than, say 35-40 MB/s which just barely passes the speeds of USB 2.0. With this new chip, there will be a maximum throughput of up to 100 MB/s, which will actually start to make good use of USB 3.0 connections and such and could really change the NAS landscape. Currently, if you want any decent USB 3.0 performance on a NAS you have to throw in a more expensive x86 chip.

Overall, these announcements are all very impressive and really show that Qualcomm is not stopping by any measure and that we can expect to see some pretty impressive products to come next year.