LAS VEGAS — It's official. Qualcomm's next trip -- beyond smartphones and tablets -- will be in a car.
The San Diego-based cellular chip giant has come to the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week to unveil the company's automotive strategy.
In an interview with EE Times, Kanwalinder Singh, senior vice president of business development for Qualcomm Technologies Inc., noted that Qualcomm will leverage the company's already strong presence in the in-car cellular modem market to advance automakers' telematics business.
It will join the brewing in-vehicle infotainment platform battle by introducing Snapdragon automotive solutions, and it plans to enter the booming advanced driver assistant systems market, initially by integrating dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technology into its WiFi chip.
As cars of the future, increasingly connected with the outside world, are turning into "smartphones on wheels," Qualcomm perceives the opportunity to use its undisputed lead in the global mobile phone business to morph into a formidable newcomer in the automotive chip market.
On Monday, Jan. 6, Qualcomm is introducing an "automotive-grade" infotainment chipset, the Snapdragon 602A applications processor, with a quad-core Krait CPU, Adreno 320 GPU, Hexagon DSP, integrated GNSS baseband processing, and additional high-performance audio, video, and communication cores.
The Snapdragon 602A processor is "pre-integrated with Qualcomm Gobi 9x15 multimode 3G/4G-LTE and QCA6574 Qualcomm VIVE 2-stream, dual-band 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth LE 4.0-based modules," according to the company. Qualcomm's goal is to provide car OEMs with "unprecedented, integrated connectivity options for connected infotainment systems."
Telematics: platform for connected car apps
It's important to note that Qualcomm isn't exactly new to the automotive market.
The company has been there for a decade, Singh told EE Times. Initially, Qualcomm provided modem chips to General Motors, when the car OEM began its OnStar telematics services.
Today, Qualcomm dominates the in-car modem market. Singh said, "It's rare to find a car where Qualcomm's modem chip is not used."
Building on its solid foothold in in-car modems, Qualcomm's next target is the in-vehicle infotainment system market.
The telematics industry today is migrating from 2.5G to LTE, mostly by skipping 3G, according to Egil Juliussen, principal analyst, infotainment and ADAS market, at IHS Automotive. Thus far, three OEMs -- Audi, GM, and BMW -- have announced plans for LTE, according to Juliussen. "All three will use Qualcomm."
Qualcomm's Singh believes these car OEMs are planning to integrate LTE modems, not just in premium cars but also in mass-market models -- in order to make their cars "future-proof." The new LTE modem design-win opportunity gives Qualcomm a perfect opening to pitch the company's newly designed, auto-grade Snapdragon, now for in-vehicle infotainment systems.
Describing telematics as the genesis of today's "connected cars," IHS analyst Juliussen explained that telematics, which has been slowly growing over the last 16 years, is suddenly "a platform of hardware and software for connected cars."
Just as a modem embedded inside a handset has served as the vital communication link to make handsets smarter -- with a host of new services and downloadable apps -- new-generation in-car modems are about to make every car smarter, more app-intensive, and capable of receiving advanced services.
Singh believes that LTE is effective in enhancing automakers' telematics services. "There are 60 to 100 ECUs in a car these days," he says, "all of which are running software." By using LTE modems, a carmaker will be able to update all of its software -- over the air. The connectivity will be useful, also, in "interacting with a car remotely," said Singh, such as comfort-setting inside a vehicle or opening a door.
In-vehicle infotainment systems are already a pretty competitive market, though.
Nvidia, for example, dominates the higher-end of the market, as the graphic chip vendor offers its top-end architecture to companies like Audi and Tesla.
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