Analysis, Features

Snap into the future: Qualcomm Snapdragon Tech Summit

In its second annual Snapdragon Tech Summit, Qualcomm Technologies revealed its 5G vision and unveiled its latest flagship system-on-a-chip Snapdragon 845, which it claims will transform the mobile industry. Adelle Geronimo reports from Maui, Hawaii.

Qualcomm has been at the forefront of the smartphone chipset market with its Snapdragon SoCs, owning 42 percent market share in 2017. Over its 30-year history as a semiconductor player the company now holds the position of being the number one fabless chipmaker in the industry, according to Insights.

With the breadth and depth of its expertise and offerings, the firm’s president Cristiano Amon highlighted that the company’s Snapdragon family is currently the most widely used mobile chipset in the world. “We are at this point when almost every smartphone today contains a piece of our technology,” he said. “However, more than that, at the heart of Qualcomm we are a systems innovation company committed to delivering solutions that can transform user experiences and industries.”

Furthermore, Amon also noted that Qualcomm has always been dedicated to driving the evolution of the wireless industry.

The Qualcomm president then talked about future 5G plans and how it expects the technology to work, and where the company fits in the expanding 5G scene.

“The last 30 years saw more and more devices becoming interconnected. This interconnectivity has changed how we handle productivity on a daily basis,” said Amon. For the next 30 years the mission of the company is to connect everything around us, and that is the promise of 5G.”

Amon predicted that the mass adoption of 5G can be expected in 2020. “The technology will bring about a new era for connectivity and will enable unlimited high-speed data for everyone,” he said. “Soon, 5G will be like electricity. It would no longer be something that people will have to think about. It will be ubiquitous and the bandwidth will be abundant.”

Qualcomm is already working on finalising the standards for 5G and it already had a reference smartphone design that uses the network technology, according to Amon.

One of the biggest announcements at the show is the unveiling of the Snapdragon 845, the firm’s latest flagship SoC, which it claims will transform next-generation Android smartphones and tablets in 2018.

The company has been spending more than $1 billion per quarter on R&D over the last five years aimed at bringing innovative experiences to consumers through its technologies.

Keith Kressin, senior vice president, Product Management, Qualcomm said that the investment on R&D is not just building the latest chips. “It’s about leadership and innovation,” he said.

“Our priority is technology and innovation. The focus is on investing ahead of the curve,” he said. “Our priority is partnerships with other technology investors, that is our goal. We don’t just create chips, we help build foundations for new technologies. The primary focus is technology leadership to improve the world.”

The upcoming 10nm mobile CPU was designed with five key pillars in mind – immersion, AI, security, connectivity and performance – enabling the new SoC to deliver faster and efficient performance, said Kressin.

“Immersion is about seamlessly capturing the world around you,” said Tim Leland, vice president of product management, Qualcomm.

Equipped with Qualcomm’s Adreno 630 graphics processor and Spectra 280 ISP, the Snapdragon 845 can process more shades of the same colour for more depth and display a broader spectrum of colours, according to Leland.

Furthermore, he highlighted that Snapdragon 845 promises to deliver immersive experiences to today’s digital citizens. “The Snapdragon 845 features new level of support for XR experiences, which encompasses AR, VR and everything in between,” Leland said.

The new Snapdragon 845 boasts a completely new architecture that sees almost all its major subsystems renewed with more performance capabilities and designed to be more efficient. “It will support and enhance new tools for industrial manufacturing, healthcare, military, engineering and emergency response.”

With AI increasingly becoming a hot topic in the industry, Qualcomm made sure to not leave out its credentials in this space.

The firm’s director for product management Gary Brotman took the stage to explain the new mobile platform’s support for AI. “AI is transforming everything. Every industry, top to bottom, products and services, back office processes and development processes are all being augmented and improved by AI.

Brotman said the AI-related capabilities of the Snapdragon 845 represent a three-times improvement over the Snapdragon 835. “AI and machine learning has traditionally been something that has been referred to the cloud,” he said. “With the Snapdragon 845 we will see intelligence moving to the edge.”

Sy Choudhury, senior director, product management, discussed the “vault-like security” that comes with the new secure processing unit on the Snapdragon 845.

“At the end of the day, security is a set of defensive features that we incorporate into the hardware and the firmware,” said Choudhury.

“Privacy is a key benefit of security,” he added. “That is why the secure processing unit has its own dedicated core, microprocessor, memory and cryptography engine to ensure privacy, security and trustability for a variety of applications including biometric authentication, mobile payments.”

Peter Carson, senior director of product marketing, described efforts to create a “wireless fiber” experience for gigabit LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi networks. The Snapdragon 845’s X20 modem represents a 20% improvement over the X16. The new modem supports five-channel carrier aggregation, 4X4 MIMO, License Assisted Access and dual SIM, dual VoLTE technology designed to divide usage between the two SIMs.

With these updates, Carson said the Snapdragon 845 can achieve “wireless fibre speeds that enable downloads of two-hour videos in two minutes or less.” Other connectivity features include multi-gigabit Wi-Fi based on the 802.11ad standard, as well as an integrated 2×2 802.11ac Wi-Fi with dual band simultaneous support; and Bluetooth 5 for ultra-low power wireless ear bud support and direct audio broadcast to multiple devices.

Carson called it the “most advanced connectivity in a smartphone ever and a big step to the 5G experience.”

Last but not the least, Qualcomm touted that Snapdragon 845 will enable efficient performance of smartphones. With the new mobile CPU, Qualcomm offers more than 20 hours of continuous video playback, or over three hours of continuous VR gameplay. “Our research shows that battery life is the number-one smartphone purchase criteria,” said Travis Lanier, senior director of product management for Qualcomm. “At the end, battery life is one of the determinants for the satisfaction of a smartphone.”

Qualcomm noted that the first devices to launch commercially with the Snapdragon 845 will arrive in early 2018. Alex Katouzian, senior vice president and general manager, mobile, Qualcomm Technologies, said, “The Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform is the next horizon of innovation and is going to transform the way people use their mobile devices to make their lives better.”

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