Tag Archives: qualcomm

Trump builds a virtual wall to fence high tech companies in

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© Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons

Broadcom will not buy Qualcomm, and will not become the third largest chipmaker in the world, behind Intel and Samsung. Not because the eye watering price – $117 billion, the largest such high tech transaction ever – is too high. Not because the deal doesn’t make economic sense. It’s because U.S. president Donald Trump says it will harm U.S. national security.

Using his authority to define what national security needs are and squash transactions that threaten them, Trump categorically blocked Broadcom’s Singapore-based corporate parent and its Californian affiliate from buying San Diego-based Qualcomm.

The apparent worry is that technological and market leadership in 5G mobile chipmaking will leave U.S. shores and go overseas, to Broadcom and China-based Huawei, with the result that neither U.S. consumers or the military would be able to trust fundamental technology and products in the coming decades.

Trump didn’t pull this idea out of thin air. In February, six intelligence agency chiefs told the U.S. senate intelligence committee that people in the U.S. shouldn’t use mobile phones made by Huawei or ZTE, the number two Chinese manufacturer. According to CNBC, FBI director Chris Wray spoke for the group and said…

We’re deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.

The irony is that the FBI’s values include the belief that it should have a back door to the contents of any mobile phone or computer, and its sister agency, the NSA, has spilled malware into the cyber ecosystem.

There are good reasons to wish Qualcomm remains Californian and independent, not least because companies do not become more innovative as they get bigger. Quite the contrary. But technological leadership and prosperity cannot be guaranteed by walls that keep investors and immigrants out and companies in, or by government management of the high tech economy.

ARM is a growing server-side threat to Intel

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Low profile, high potential.

2014 will be the year that specialised ARM-based chips gather momentum in the server market. That was not good news for Intel as it scrambled at CES to maintain relevance in the mobile device market. The last thing it needs – but the next thing it’s going to get – is competitive pressure on server processors, an increasingly rare example of a growth market that it dominates.

ARM maintained a relatively low profile at CES, leaving center stage to companies, like Qualcomm, that license its microprocessor architecture and make the chips that rule the smart phone and tablet space. Or, like Samsung or Huawei or ZTE, that make those devices. It did have a small stand at the Pepcom press preview event, though, showing examples of wearable products – the breakout category at the show – that it powers.

“Our customers can build optimal solutions, that’s what happening in the server space”, said Jeff Chu, an ARM marketing executive. The idea is to build chips that are specifically designed for a particular kind of application: media servers, for example. The ARM architecture is more modular and adaptable than Intel’s x86 monolith, which gives it the flexibility needed to support the development of an increasingly complex server-side ecosystem.

Chu said that AMD will be shipping samples of an ARM-based server chip in the next couple of months, with full production expected later this year. Broadcom is also working on a server-optimised processor. The two companies have different takes on how to build chips that improve performance and reduce power consumption for particular server applications, according to Chu.

Mobile innovation will continue to be the growth engine of consumer electronics

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Left to right: Vestberg, moderately bright moderator Andrew Keen, Jacobs, Donovan.

Qualcomm’s outgoing CEO, Paul Jacobs, Ericsson’s CEO Hans Vestberg and AT&T mobile executive John Donovan sat down on stage at CES this morning, for a conversation about the “global innovation of mobile”.

The longest view ahead came from Jacobs. “One thing that’s cool and scary and at the same time is neuromorphic computing”, he said. Qualcomm is trying to reverse engineer natural brains – starting with insects and working up to humans – to build computers with high cognitive functions that operate on relatively little energy. The potential is there, as well, for networking brains directly into digital devices, something he said has already been done on a very rudimentary level with rats.

Vestberg talked about fundamental network infrastructure challenges. “A combination of broadband, mobility and the cloud will transform any business”, he said. It depends, though, on carriers transforming networks originally built for voice communications to completely broadband-centric designs. By 2019, he said, 85% of the world’s population will be covered by systems that deliver at least 3G data service. More people will have the means of using those systems, too. For every $10 drop in the price of smart phone, 100 million more people can afford one, according to Vestberg.

Mobile devices will get bigger, Donovan predicts. Much bigger. “I think that in three years the car will blow us away”, he said, describing a blending of cars, content and services that will fundamentally change how we spend time on the road. “It’ll be a productivity experience, if you want. It’ll be an entertainment experience”. I can only hope that vision includes someone – or something – else doing the actual driving.

Intel CEO’s vision for a post-Windows world

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Time for Linux and kin.

“This is a consumer show, like it or not”, said Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, as he gave his maiden CES keynote talk last night. Judging by what he said (and didn’t say), the consumer electronics world is built on Linux and Android. His focus was on wearables.

“They don’t integrate all the features you want, you still had to have something else with you”, Krzanich said about smart watches and other wearables. “And you ’re not solving real problems, the problems people want solved at the time”.

Intel’s answer is adding more and more functionality – using audio ear buds to measure heart rate, for example – and putting more processing power into tiny devices. To jump start that effort, Krzanich announced a competition worth $1.3 million in prize money – $500,000 for first place – for new ideas. According to Intel’s press release

The product must be based on Intel technology and be a sensor or computing device that is attached, embedded or worn on the body.

Krzanich bent over backwards to be operating system-agnostic. The convertible PC/tablet he demoed boots into either Android or Windows. The one actual Intel product he introduced – a Pentium-class system-on-a-chip called Edison, built into a standard, small SD card – runs Linux, not Windows. Intel’s re-launched security platform supports anything.

The reference designs in the spotlight last night did not include smart phones or pure tablets. Krzanich talked up productivity applications, in contrast to Steve Mollenkopf, Qualcomm’s CEO-in-waiting, who extolled media consumption earlier in the day. The two dominant chip makers staked out their turf yesterday, and there’s surprisingly little overlap in market positioning. The one thing Krzanich and Mollenkopf seem to agree on, though, is that the consumer electronics industry’s future lies with open source operating systems and their derivatives, not Windows.

Qualcomm’s CEO-elect backs away from Microsoft

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Mollenkopf prepares to step into the spotlight.

“We continue to be optimistic about the future of the Windows ecosystem”, said Steve Mollenkopf, the man picked to take over as CEO of Qualcomm, starting in March. He was responding to a question about Qualcomm’s relationship with Microsoft, during a refreshingly informal press conference at CES today.

What Mollenkopf didn’t say, though, was even more important.

When quizzed about Qualcomm’s ability to move beyond media consumption and into mobile productivity devices, such as the Windows tablets that have stalled in the marketplace, Mollenkopf talked up the benefits of supporting multiple operating systems – which Qualcomm vigorously does – and then started waxing poetic about the wonders of media consumption. And, incidentally, pointing out that people are doing a lot of productive things on Android phones and phablets.

It was clear that he doesn’t think Qualcomm’s future will depend on Microsoft figuring out how to create and support mobile products and services.

He also dodged questions about the potential development of ARM-powered chips specifically for use in servers. In general, Mollenkopf was unapologetic about keeping tighter control on new product details. “We’re in the leadership position and don’t feel it’s necessary to tip our hand as early as others”, he said.

Qualcomm’s strength is in mobile products, and the chips it produces are putting more and more power into those smaller form factors, increasingly satisfying consumer demands that were previously met by more traditional CE products, like TVs and PCs. “It’s all about mobile”, Mollenkopf said. “If you’re looking at what’s driving growth, what people are excited about, they’re excited about mobile”.

De facto M2M protocol might be decided by appliance makers

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Popular standards flow from the lowest common denominator.

From Ericsson’s 50 billion node mobile universe to Qualcomm’s 1,000X meme, there’s been no shortage of grand vision for machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity at CES. Meaningful standards are lacking, but at least a consensus seems to be building around what to call it: the Internet of things – IoT.

Since it’ll be using the same, old Internet, there’s no particular worry about how to deliver data from point A to point B, and back again. Work needs to be done on standardising wireless access to networks, including mobile gateways, but that’s a finite problem, both in terms of technological alternatives and the entities that need to agree on them.

The biggest hurdle right now is figuring out a protocol for interaction amongst devices that’s as universally acceptable as hypertext transfer protocol is for human-to-machine interaction.

AllJoyn is a rising contender for that role. Originally developed as an open source project by Qualcomm, it’s now been transferred to the custodianship of the Linux Foundation, which in turn has rolled it into the AllSeen Alliance, whose members…

…will contribute software and engineering resources as part of their collaboration on an open software framework that enables hardware manufacturers, service providers and software developers to create interoperable devices and services. This open source framework allows ad hoc systems to seamlessly discover, dynamically connect and interact with nearby products regardless of brand, transport layer, platform or operating system.

Qualcomm is a premier member, of course, as are LG, Sharp, Panasonic and Haier, all of which are in the business of making dull, reliable and absolutely necessary appliances like refrigerators, dryers and air conditioners. If white goods manufacturers continue to sign on with AllJoyn/AllSeen, it could become the de facto standard for consumer-grade M2M/IoT products by cornering an industry segment that makes a virtue out of short attention spans and long replacement cycles. It could also inject pizzazz into white goods – who knows, the superstar at a future CES could even be a dishwasher, instead of the usual gonzo-sized video screen.

The Linux Foundation has already made inroads into the appliance business with Tizen, bringing Samsung and Intel into the mix, at least on the operating system side. World wide washing, anyone?

Cities and carriers won’t win new mobile bandwidth by playing under the old rules

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Just the beginning for urban mobile crowding.

If mobile data networks are going to be capable of handing 1,000-times more traffic in the near future – as Qualcomm believes they will – the number of cell sites will have to increase by 100-times, at least in dense urban areas. That was the pictured painted last night by Ronen Vengosh, vice president of marketing and business development for PureWave Networks, at a small cell seminar organised by the Wireless Communications Alliance on Qualcomm’s Santa Clara campus.

“You have to put [small cells] where the people are”, Vengosh said. To get that done, carriers will have to work more closely together to colocate equipment, because access to optimal locations will be limited. Outdoors, cities won’t want company after company putting in hundreds of cells. Indoors, venue owners won’t want to deal with multiple entities. “Urban permitting is no walk in the park”, he pointed out.

AT&T is eyeing an end run around local restrictions, as Verizon is already doing, by putting small cells on utility poles, and leveraging their status as an incumbent wireline company. “As a [local exchange carrier], we have the right to be in the public right of way”, said Randy Schwabacher, real estate and construction manager for AT&T.

It’s nice to be a LEC, but it’s a partial fix at best, even for service providers that can wiggle through that loophole.

As mobile traffic becomes more congested, pressure will mount on cities, from increasingly desperate carriers, frustrated consumers and the always entertaining tin foil hat brigade. The only long term answer is for all players to accept responsibility for solving each other’s problems. Otherwise, you’ll just get 100-times more lawsuits and permit hearings, not 1,000-times more bandwidth.

Looking for the Facebook of mobile medical platforms

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With 26 million people – more than 8% of the population – in the U.S. suffering from diabetes, a device that wirelessly tracks blood glucose levels will find a ready market. Which is what iHealth is targeting with a new, networked glucose monitor that was previewed at Pepcom’s Holiday Spectacular in San Francisco last week. Piece by piece, this consumer oriented medical device maker is also building an online health and wellness management platform.

The monitor costs $80 and connects to an iOS or Android device via Bluetooth. You prick your finger with a disposable test strip, the device then automatically analyses it and uploads the data to your account on iHealth’s website via your smart phone. You can log on and see your data, and share it with your doctor. Or, it seems, pretty much anybody you want.

There’s a nascent social networking function on the platform, and there are hooks to Twitter and Facebook. Although publicly broadcasting health stats seems more relevant to people who buy iHealth’s fitness related products, like its activity and sleep tracker, with the proper privacy controls it could be a valuable way to, say, keep tabs on diabetic children. Or elderly parents. There is a market and a purpose for consumer-focused, real time tracking of blood pressure, weight and blood glucose levels, as iHealth’s products do.

The online service is free, sorta. The proprietary test strips can only be used once and cost a buck apiece, so there’s recurring revenue in the business model. There’s also the potential for paid upgrades – online evaluation by medical professionals, for example.

Smart phone-enabled and M2M medical devices tied to cloud services are a growth market – hundreds of companies have adopted Qualcomm’s mobile health technology – and iHealth has a nicely diverse product range supported by an integrated and simple to use website, that’s extensible to a wide range of third-party service providers. The experience with social networks is that many jump into a market opening but, usually, one emerges as the dominant player for a given purpose – LinkedIn for professional networking, for example.

There’s no default online health platform yet, but given the history of social media, there’s every reason to think that it’ll emerge from a small start-up like iHealth.

Intel selling heavy metal thunder to a lightning fast market

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The next industry standard.

After playing with an Atom-powered smart phone at CES this year and hearing execs talk up Android, I saw glimmers of hope that Intel was finally coming to grips with the mobile world. It seems I had it backwards: the mobile world is tightening its grip on Intel’s corporate throat.

Long the dominant player in PC and big server processors, Intel is all but shut out of smart phones and tablets, a billion unit market, and has no presence at all in the machine-to-machine space, which could be five or ten times that size in the next handful of years. Its ARM-based competition is even beginning to creep into the increasingly energy conscious server segment.

Its luck isn’t likely change soon: a microcomputer mindset is hard-coded into Intel’s DNA. In his first quarterly earnings call, rookie CEO Brian Krzanich’s attempt to convince analysts that the company is finally on the right path ended up proving the opposite…

Intel was slow to respond to the ultra-mobile PC trend. The importance of that can be seen in the current market dynamics. The traditional PC market segment is down from our expectations at the beginning of the year while ultra-mobile devices like tablets are up.

Saying a tablet is an ultra-mobile PC is like calling a motorcycle an ultra-mobile car. That’s fine if you’re trying to cram a V–8 onto the frame because that’s the only kind of engine you make. Not so good if you’re trying to out race the competition.

Gigabit mobile phones teased for the 5G road map

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It’s more than a 5 year mission to the next generation.

Samsung’s latest mobile technology announcement could result in faster mobile data traffic running on much higher frequency bands. Speeds of up to 1 Gbps on the 28 GHz band have been claimed, using antenna designs that are intended to mitigate the poor indoor penetration and range associated with millimeter wavelengths. It’s experimental – the commercialization target is 2020 – and intended to be a foundation for 5G service.

5G is undefined at this point, except that it’s whatever the next big step up from 4G will be. Deployment is assumed to be some time in the next decade. It’s likely to involve more densely packed cells with smaller coverage areas, including in-home femto cells and distributed small cells outdoors. Plus a healthy dose of WiFi offload.

If you make cell sizes smaller, you can use spectrum more intensively. Samsung’s technology fits well with that approach: whiz-bang antennas notwithstanding, higher frequencies are more useful at shorter distances.

Whatever it turns out to be, developing 5G technology is absolutely necessary. Mobile traffic continues to increase and the amount of spectrum available is finite. Making use of other bands, like Samsung is doing, will be one piece of the puzzle. 5G will encompass a range of technologies and approaches.

Qualcomm has made “1000x” its mantra. If mobile traffic more or less doubles every year, the compounded growth will be one thousand times in less than ten years, outstripping the capacity of 4G technology. That’s why technology leaders are putting markers down on 5G technology today.