BARCELONA – Qualcomm, Samsung and MediaTek, three leading smartphones chip vendors, have come to the Mobile World Congress (MWC) here this week to showcase advanced new modems and apps processors designed to power next-generation smartphones.
Nobody knows exactly what Apple has up its sleeve for the upcoming iPhone 8 in the iPhone’s tenth birthday. But gleaning from new technologies launched at the MWC, we have some idea of what to expect in Apple’s iPhone 8.
The use of the10nm process technology – common to all three chips announced by Qualcomm, Samsung and MediaTek – and faster speeds in downlink and uplink enabled by the advanced LTE modem -- led by Qualcomm -- are two likely elements to be leveraged in iPhone 8.
Features suggested for Apple’s iPhone 8 range from the adoption of OLED display to a front-facing camera with facial recognition and infrared transmitter/receiver. But realistically, even for Apple, new bells and whistles amount to incremental steps, not a great leap forward to the iPhone of tomorrow.
Finbarr Moynihan, general manager, corporate sales (International) at MediaTek, told EE Times that smartphones are “maturing to middle age.” It’s getting harder to find huge differences in features among end products, but smartphone SoC designers continue to wring out better power and processing performance.
Asked about key differentiators among maturing smartphones, Jim McGregor, principal analyst of Tirias Research, cited modem speed and multimedia performance (GPU, ISP, VPU, etc.).
Multimedia functions are critical to the latest applications including AR, VR, and even GPU computing for applications like computational photography and AI (natural language processing and image recognition), he said.
In addition, modem performance has become crucial, especially through Apple’s dual-sourcing strategy, McGregor added. “Modem performance impacts not only the uplink and downlink data speeds, but also the connectivity reliability and clarity of the call.”
Following is a brief thumbnail of the three new smartphone chips being announced at the MWC.
Qualcomm is showing off the Snapdragon X20 LTE modem. The company’s clear plan is to leverage its lead in modem technology. The X20 chip is Qualcomm’s second generation Gigabit LTE modem. It supports Category 18 download speeds up to 1.2Gps. Built on Samsung’s 10nm FinFET technology, the X20 is the industry’s most advanced and first 10nm discrete modem.
Samsung comes to Barcelona flashing the Exynos 9 Series 8895 -- its first processor chipset based on 10nm FinFET process technology. The octa-core processor sports a new gigabit LTE modem supporting five-carrier aggregation (5CA). It delivers data throughput at maximum 1Gbps (Category 16) downlink with 5CA and 150Mbps (Category13) uplink with 2CA.
MediaTek announced Monday (Feb. 27) the commercial availability of its Helio X30 SoC. Positioned as the most powerful addition to MediaTek’s Helio family, the new X30 offers 10-core, Tri-Cluster architecture on TSMC’s 10nm process technology. It consists of two ARM Cortex-A73 at 2.5 GHz, four ARM Cortex-A53 at 2.2 GHz and four ARM Cortex-A35 at 1.9 GHz. MediaTek has integrated an LTE Category 10 modem, supporting a three-downlink Carrier Aggregation (3CA) and a two-uplink Carrier Aggregation (2CA) for high volume streaming.
Mike Demler, a senior analyst at The Linley Group, noted, “MediaTek’s joining the 10nm club is significant,” but “Helio processors are more about producing a balanced design than blowing out any particular feature.”
To put all these chips into context, Samsung’s Exynos 8895 competes directly with the Qualcomm Snapdrago 835 (which Qualcomm unveiled in January). In contrast, MediaTek’s X30 “isn’t going after head-to-head competition for flagship phones (like iPhone or Galaxy S), noted Demler. Instead, “its competitor is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 600 series.”
Next page: Relentless speed race in modem