Tag Archives: qualcomm

Intel selling heavy metal thunder to a lightning fast market

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

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

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

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.

Five broadband trends shaping communities

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

A good place to talk about water, land and technology.

I was asked to do a presentation on broadband trends at the Urban Land Institute’s spring meeting in San Diego today. Specifically, it was for one of the ULI’s community development councils, which is focused on planned community developers. I had to narrow the list down to five:

  • Conduit is gold. Cities and private developments can build a base for jobs and industry just by putting conduit in the ground whenever a trench is opened. And it’s a no brainer for greenfield developments.
  • Google wants to disrupt the telecoms business and, on the available evidence, it’s succeeding. By threatening incumbents with competition and raising consumer expectations, it’s shifting the conversation away from wireless spending and back to fiber optic investment.
  • Independent middle mile fiber optic infrastructure is the key to economic development for communities outside of core metropolitan areas. And not very far outside, either. Pulling a fiber a few dozen miles over the hill from Santa Clara has re-energized Santa Cruz’s economy.
  • Qualcomm’s assumption that mobile data traffic will grow one thousand times in the next few years is simple math. The next generation of mobile data technology will push small cell sites and connecting fiber closer and closer to users.
  • Connectivity brings you all the comforts of work, where ever you live. Telecommuting, co-working and wireless-equipped company commuter buses make it possible for people to live in the urban areas they love and work at suburban corporate campuses, or chill by the beach and email the job in.

No one builds new housing without planning for water, energy and transportation. My message was that broadband joined that list in the twenty-first century. In other words, now.

5G mobile means more fiber in more places

by Steve Blum • , ,

Qualcomm graphic.

“Bringing the network closer to the user is key to 1000x,” said Prakash Sangam, director of tech marketing for Qualcomm, speaking to the Wireless Communications Alliance in Santa Clara, California last month. 1000x is Qualcomm’s shorthand way of saying that with mobile data traffic more or less doubling every year, we’ll need one thousand times the amount of available bandwidth in a few years.

“Reaching this 1000x is a matter of when and not if,” Sangam said.

More spectrum and improved technology will help, but not by 1000x. The answer is small – pico and femto – cells and WiFi offload. Either way, it depends on making wireless hops shorts, so frequencies can be re-used in tighter and tighter areas. To do that, wired back haul needs to be pushed closer to users.

Users will provide some of their own back haul, particularly when accessing mobile networks indoors. WiFi and femto cells will transfer traffic to home and office broadband connections.

Outside, though, small cells will either be wired directly, preferably by fiber, or link back to macro cells – AKA regular, old cellular sites and towers – that are connected to fat fiber pipes.

Jonathan Wells, with AJIS Consulting, predicted that within four or five years, only half of mobile data traffic will be carried on traditional macro cells, a quarter on small cells and a quarter off-loaded directly to WiFi.

Some back haul will be wireless, but at some point even that has to be aggregated and routed onto landlines. And it’s not something carriers want to do, believing that “wireless backhaul is an absolute last resort and a necessary evil,” according to David Witkowski, WCA president and senior product manager of the microwave measurement division at Anritsu.

You can bet on fiber middle mile networks continuing to creep closer and closer to the last mile. The odds are 1,000 to 1 in your favor.

Health care driving mobile M2M traffic

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Bits keep you fit.

Some time this year, we’ll hit the point where there are more connected devices on mobile networks than there are people on the planet. That doesn’t mean everyone everywhere will have a smartphone. A lot of people have more than one device, of course. And a growing share of those connections don’t involve human beings at all.

According to a report on worldwide mobile data traffic just released by Cisco, 369 million machine-to-machine (M2M) devices accounted for 3% of global traffic last year. By 2017, the total will climb to 1.7 billion and generate 5% of mobile data traffic around the world, an annual traffic growth rate of 89%.

Health care is the fastest growing segment of the M2M data market. Cisco’s prediction is that it’ll grow 74% per year for the next five years, driven by bandwidth intensive applications deployed to hospitals as well as directly with patients.

Equipment manufacturers are even more bullish in their predictions. Qualcomm, in particular, aims to drive growth in M2M chip sales by providing support to health care related ventures. Either way, though, it’s a huge new market for both hardware and services, with the number of devices in use growing 36% per year for the next five years, according to Cisco’s forecast.

Overall, M2M products are becoming more sophisticated, with the average device generating 64 Mbps per month in mobile traffic, a figured expected to grow to 330 Mbps in 2017. Asia will generate the highest volume of traffic by then, but Europe is predicted to have the fastest rate of growth.

Qualcomm’s medical M2M platform gaining ground

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Sensible shoes.

Qualcomm Life's medical M2M (machine-to-machine) platform, 2net, had a good first year on the market. About a dozen companies were demonstrating their connected medical and fitness products in and around the Qualcomm booth at CES. So far, about two hundred have adopted the platform.

Introduced at the show last year, 2net securely connects personal monitoring and measurement devices – glucose meters, activity trackers, blood pressure monitors, for example – to health professionals. It provides the gateway and and the backend servers, plus the Internet connectivity when necessary.

It's turned out to be a catalyst for wearable electronics. BodyMedia and FitBit are in the 2net family. So's Fitlinxx, which was showing its Pebble activity monitor. Not to be confused with the Pebble smart watch which debuted at CES yesterday. That's a trademark fight waiting to happen.

Corporate wellness programs are its target market. The half dollar sized device clips to a shoe or a belt and records steps taken, calories burned and other fitness metrics. It uses a proprietary 2.4 GHz data link to upload data to a hub, usually located on the company premises, and then on to the 2net platform.

They're just starting to move into the consumer space. Instead of installing a hub, consumers plug a USB dongle into their home computer and go from there to 2net, which then links them to their health care provider or fitness coach.

Between its Tricorder X-Prize competition and its $500 million health-related corporate venture capital fund, Qualcomm is betting that the health sector will be driving the growth of networked services, wired and wireless alike. So far, it's paying off.

Oh, you mean a Maxwell Smart home

“Chaos is an opportunity for people like me,” said Tom Kadlec, one of the founders of The Homeworks Group. They do the hard work of integrating and managing home automation systems for about a thousand subscribers. Both he and his partner have electrical engineering degrees, which is great for them but not so good for the home handyman who majored in, say, political science.

Come quick, 99. I’m surrounded by ARMed phones.

Protocol agnostic and easy to use: home automation needs heavy helpings of both if it’s to ever find its secret sauce. And the industry doesn’t seem to be much closer to solving it than it was a year ago. The missing piece is still a universal, consumer friendly gateway/hub device that can tie together different products using different protocols.

Last Thursday evening, the Wireless Communications Alliance rolled a discussion about home automation into its annual holiday party. Hosted by Qualcomm, the event featured four experts from different corners of the industry: two semiconductor makers, a market intelligence analyst and a custom installer.

“Our industry is based on a promise to solve all the problems,” IDC‘s Michael Palma admitted. “A lot depends on the service providers.” Gianluca Viale, from Renesas, offered patience rather than a solution, saying whatever it is, the silicon will still be there to support it whenever it happens.

Fabrice Hoerner, senior manager of technical marketing at Qualcomm, said they’re working on combining “multiple smarts:” smart connectivity, smart gateways, smart devices and a smart cloud.

“Everyone is building their own gateway, but there is an opportunity to bring some of them together,” Hoerner said. “If there is money to make, the industry will adjust to this potential.”

Maybe. But so far, home automation chaos has eighty-sixed home control.

More mobile phones in use worldwide than toothbrushes

If what Paul Jacobs said is true, it’s probably a good thing people are communicating by phone and not face to face. The CEO of Qualcomm made the claim at a conference organized by the Telecom Council of Silicon Valley.

His point was that mobile phones are ubiquitous and, because of that, can do more for healthcare than the humble toothbrush. Qualcomm has an interest in promoting new uses for mobile phones that make good use of the increasingly powerful and sophisticated chipsets, devices and services on the market.

Jacobs gave an update on the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize, which he announced at CES in January. It’s a ten million dollar incentive for developers and entrepreneurs to figure out how to make Dr. McCoy’s handheld medical scanner a reality. The idea is to “see if they can diagnose 15 diseases better than a panel of doctors,” he told the Mountain View audience.

According to Jacobs, 200 teams from around the world are already competing for the Tricorder X Prize. They have some time to do it. The first qualifying round of competition is tentatively scheduled for Spring 2014. Right now, Qualcomm and the X Prize Foundation are taking registrations.

The list of targeted diseases hasn’t been finalized yet, but the preliminary set includes anemia, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, melanoma, leukocytosis and abnormalities in a comprehensive metabolic panel. Contenders will ultimately scan real people in a live competition that determines if they’ve produced “a mobile platform that most accurately diagnoses a set of 15 conditions across 30 consumers in three days.”

Qualcomm’s consumer services business going to the dogs

Tagg is a mobile pet tracker and promising veterinary diagnostic tool, offered by Snaptracs, a Qualcomm subsidiary. The hardware costs $100, with ongoing service at $8 per month for the first pet and and $1 for each additional one.

Tagg on a not-so-lively dog

That eight bucks gets you a text message whenever your dog strays from home, with GPS feeds to help you find him. Or your cat, if it’s one of the few big enough to handle the weight and tolerant enough to wear it.

It also lets you analyze the GPS and accelerometer data it collects all day to assess his activity level and give you a rough indicator of his overall health. The online analysis can be passed on to your veterinarian for assessment.

It’s popular enough that Snaptracs is wholesaling the hardware to vets and using them as a distribution channel. But Snaptracs is missing a bet by not including them in the ongoing revenue stream.

True enough, Tagg isn’t any use without an ongoing subscription and it’s a new enough product that early sales growth will swamp anychurn at this point. But the novelty will wear off and the actual utility will diminish in value: most dogs don’t often stray far from home (although the ones that do can lead you on a merry chase) and you don’t really need daily confirmation that he’s getting his usual 16 hours of sleep. The business model is heading toward an annual churn rate north of 50%.

That’s where vets can help. Use more of the sensors on the chipset – thermal and audio, for example – to monitor vital signs, mine the data and pass it on to vets. They can tell you when your dog might be having health issues and be frontline churn fighters. And the more skin they have in the game, the more enthusiastically they’ll fight. Right now, they don’t have any.

Snaptracs is working on the technology needed to boost utility, but not as yet on the business model. Parent company Qualcomm is a dominant player in mobile hardware and intellectual property with a poor track record selling services and content. To turn that around, they need to give their distribution channel partners a reason to help.

Thinking forward from CES 2012

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

If CES 2012 produced one quote that might be remembered in years to come, it was from Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg: “Anything that benefits from being connected will be connected in the future.” It says two very important things about the consumer electronics industry.

First, going forward, mobile telecommunications manufacturers and core technology companies will be the primary innovators. Computer companies provided much of the innovation for the industry in the past ten years, but they are all but gone from CES.

Second, the business of consumer electronics will focus less on physical products and more on services connected to those products. As technology becomes more capable and cheaper – and it will – the differences between hardware brands and devices will become diminishingly small. Services will be the primary differentiator for products and brands.

Arguably, the most influential consumer electronics company of the past ten years began the last decade as Apple Computer, and finished it as simply Apple, a music, cloud service and telecommunications company. They were so far ahead of the curve that they didn’t have to join the other computer-oriented companies in pulling out of CES. They weren’t there in the first place.

The first revolution in consumer electronics products equipped with wireless machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and tied to differentiated services will come from home health and fitness devices.

Qualcomm launched its Qualcomm Life subsidiary to provide a cloud platform that will support medical services delivered through mobile communications devices, including but not limited to those powered by the chipsets it makes. It’s also putting up $100 million in venture funding to back connected medical device and service start-ups.

But that’s small change compared to the amount of money that health insurance companies can bring to bear as they move into the networked personal health care space, and mandate such services for their customers. The digital media and automobile sectors will follow closely behind, providing more opportunities and platforms for the consumer electronics industry.

Vestberg believes there will be 50 billion mobile telecoms subscriptions by 2020, the vast majority for M2M networking. Each one of those subscriptions represents at least one device, and potentially multiple contracts for wirelessly delivered services. It will be boom times for the CE companies that can make the changes necessary to take advantage of this huge new market, and an ever declining legacy business for those that don’t.