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Actually, each new generation of cellular technologies has seen a player leaving the market and a new one emerges. In 4G, several players left the baseband market, such as Broadcom, despite several acquisition or Fujitsu.
With 5G, Intel was the first to leave the device baseband market by selling its cellular assets to Apple. Due to the economic war between the US and China, the future of Huawei chipsets, with the inability to rely on TSMC foundry 5nm process starting on 15th of September is also uncertain. Since our last update, Huawei is the only player for which we were not able to find a new 5G chip in its portfolio.
The latest flagship device from Huawei uses the Kirin chipset, which is reportedly based on the Balong modem that was announced in In 5G Qualcomm is still considered the leader in market share but recently, the rise of Mediatek with its Dimensity range of 5G modem, now commercially available is somehow changing the competitive landscape and this is particularly true in China where tensions with the US put Huawei in a difficult situation regarding its chip design capabilities.
In Q3 it even surpassed Qualcomm on the global smartphone chipsets market, benefiting from the growth in China and India and the next step for Mediatek would be to surpass Qualcomm in volume for the whole year, something that Mediatek might very well accomplish if we look at the ever increasing number of 5G chipsets announced..
With the announcement, of its x65 latest generation of 5G baseband, Qualcomm however is demonstrating it is still a little bit ahead in terms of technology development. X65 5G modem will support up to 10 Gbps throughputs. While Samsung and Huawei, number one and three in the smartphone market in have initially used their chipset internally, this situation has changed throughout the time, as both chipset manufacturers have been mentioned as selling their chipset to other device manufacturers, mostly Asian one.
As mention earlier, the situation of Huawei is uncertain because of the political rivalries between the US and China. In a not-so-distant future, they will both be joined by Apple, after the Cupertino company acquired Intel cellular assets for mobile devices. For now, Qualcomm is still benefiting from this situation, since Apple is not currently capable of using its own silicon for 5G connectivity and has inked a licensing deal with Qualcomm to use their 5G products.
The new iPhone 12, which is powered by Qualcomm x55 5G modem has positively impacted the latest financial results from Qualcomm in the last quarter. After a slow 5G headstart, Mediatek has turned into a serious competitor in the recent months thanks to the growth in the very large Chinese market as well as thanks to the difficulties leading Huawei to partly rely on Mediatek 5G chipset in lieu of HiSilicon chipsets difficult to be produced in the context of US restriction on doing business with Huawei.
In recent months, Mediatek has been mainly competing on the mid-end and low-end 5G chipset market, launching a host of different SoC. For various price ranges. In February , Mediatek announced its 2 nd generation of 5G baseband, the M80, which is likely to be integrated into the new SoC to be announced in M80 5G baseband marks the 1 st 5G baseband from Mediatek to support mmWaves with maximum reachable throughput of 7.
This set this baseband in the same ballpark as Qualcomm x60 announced one year ago. Mediatek M80 is to be sampled during Unisoc was previously known as Spreadtrum and had a development partnership with Intel for LTE chipset for Chinese devices but the partnership over 5G has been dropped and Unisoc is now following its own route. After Intel quitted the smartphone chipset market in April , Apple purchased most of Intel 5G business for 1 billion USD with the intent to develop its own 5G baseband.
In the meantime, Apple is using Qualcomm 5G modem after it reached a 6-year licence agreement as a settlement for the litigation between Apple and Qualcomm. The reason for Apple to develop its own modem is above all the capability to better integrate connectivity capabilities to Apple global ecosystem of devices, not only in iPhones and iPad, for which a homegrown ARM-based processor has already been available for many years but also for the rest of its line of computers.
In mid-June , Apple indeed announced its choice to transition from Intel x86 architecture to the ARM architecture, something which resulted in the commercial launch of the first ARM-based Mac computers in November By mastering and fully controlling the processors of Mac computers, Apple will be able to develop and integrate new features, of which of course 5G connectivity.
It is estimated that Apple own 5G modems could come to the market around Such modems are very unlikely to be sold to other OEMs as they are meant to become a differentiating point for Apple. While designing a cellular modem is no easy task, Apple has proven in the past that it could acquire knowledge and competencies in the design of new solutions, something that takes time to reach maturity but will in the end serve the interest of Apple.
In October , Apple launched its line of 5G iPhones, using Qualcomm x55 modem and the next iPhone in is likely to be powered by Qualcomm x60 generation. Being at the forefront of the cellular connectivity field has never been a focus for Apple, which has always had a conservative approach in that domain remember, iPhone 1 st generation was a 2.
The release of 5G baseband and RF systems is the first step before commercial devices. Usually, when a new radio technology is released, basebands are developed and implemented in relatively simple devices such as mobile WiFi hotspots, before more complex devices such as smartphones, where integration is always more challenging. Before fully commercial devices can be made available, several steps are required. This time, with 5G, Fixed Wireless Access was one of the first use cases, rather than mobile usage and first commercial devices announced have been 5G home routers, such as the one announced by Huawei at MWC in Barcelona, or the one by Samsung.
Those early devices have been more specifically designed for carrier partners Verizon in the US and in South Korea, and have already received their approval from the FCC. Since then, many other routers and CPEs have been released for various usage and with newer 5G chipsets and capabilities. Example of routers based on Snapdragon based on 2 nd gen x55 5G modem. Source: Qualcomm. Since then, however, the ecosystem has continued its expansion alongside that of the smartphone devices.
An illustration of this is the announcement in October by Qualcomm that over 34 OEMs had planned to use its X55 5G modem alongside a specifically designed for FWA antenna solution. Between Q3 and Q4 , the number of such devices listed more than doubled and it took nearly one more year after that, between December and November for this number to double again.
As of the end of January , indeed, Gsacom reported 5G devices announced by different vendors and 20 different categories of form factors, some of which are fairly similar. Of those 5G devices, at least, are commercially available, which is a more than 3.
It certainly indicates a continued momentum in the building of the ecosystem. Growth of announced 5G devices not all commercially available as of end of January The fact that smartphones are the 1 st category of devices announced together with modules is a noteworthy fact. CPEs and modules, are usually the first devices to go to the market when a device ecosystem is building up but smartphones usually come afterwards.
Between December and the end of November the number of 5G smartphones has nearly quadrupled. Smartphones are not only the 1 st category of device in the 5G ecosystem but also the fastest growing one and a category set to continue its growth as 5G attracts more and more users. In detail, most of the devices launched in have been based on second-generation 5G baseband and it is only one year after its announcement that 3 rd generation 5G modem are going to take place in commercial devices, just as new generations of basebands are being announced.
At this stage, the RF and antennas add a significant toll to the total Bill of Material BOM of 5G devices without even talking of power consumption, time has not yet come for worldwide 5G devices supporting all the 5G frequency bands. While those bands sport more limited throughput, they are key for 5G roaming, as operator will be vying for expanded coverage and SA deployments. The 5G performance of the Snapdragon is still far better than the best 4G possible performance, topping at a theoretical downlink throughput of 3.
Despite much noise around mmWave bands deployment abroad, the sub-6 GHz device ecosystem is doing strong and especially the 3. More precisely, the n78 band 3. Given the wide availability of this frequency band worldwide, this is not a big surprise. While not providing as much bandwidth as mmWave bands largest possible bandwidth configuration is MHz it is providing a much larger coverage. As compared to lower frequency bands, it still sports better capacity and is better suited to massive MIMO deployment in the field because of the much smaller antennas required.
During the last three quarters, the number of devices supporting those frequency bands has grown substantially indicating a clear interest from operators in those frequencies as they prepare to leverage their existing asset in complement to mid-frequency band.
In , the support for sub-6 GHz carrier aggregation should further drive the support for those bands including in Europe where DSS has also been deployed in the field with various strategies depending on the operators. Of course, the use of such low-frequency bands for 5G comes with inferior throughput but from a marketing standpoint, it enables operators to claim a coverage dominance over the competition.
Not surprisingly again, much of the mmWave device ecosystem is driven by the need to support US 5G networks but this has started to change in as other mmWave deployments have taken place during the second half of this year in countries such as Korea and Japan but also in Russia, Singapore and Italy where usage for FWA has started.
While no devices had been announced for n 26 GHz band in December , the mmWave frequency of choice in Europe and China for latter deployments , this band has humbly jumped from 0 to 3 devices in March to 5 at the end of May , and now 8 by the end of November which for now still remains anecdotal.
In , the ecosystem for mmWave devices should continue to build up as more countries, including in Europe will start to deploy some mmWave networks. In the last two months, the growth dynamic for mmWave devices has come from the n bands used by Verizon Wireless. Starting with LTE the number of frequency bands in has increased significantly to support increased throughput thanks to carrier aggregation and availability of wider bandwidth in higher spectrum. This however has led to more RF complexity in our devices with the need to support an even bigger number of frequency bands in the same devices to cater to the situation of each market and reduce the variant of the same device for different markets.
This is an extreme example and such number of bands support is usually limited to higher-end devices that can support such an increase in the Bill of Material. A report from the GCF, the certification stated that in , certified 5G devices on average supported 8. As 5G Standalone deployments have started in a few countries such as in China and in the US, the existence of devices supporting this mode is of paramount importance. While nearly all baseband now supports SA modes, it was not the case at the beginning of the building up of the ecosystem.
As of February , Gsacom however reported announced 5G devices with support for 5G standalone of which were commercially available. This share could increase easily as network operators decide to start the deployment of native 5G Core required for SA deployment as a software update is possible to turn this capability on for devices with compatible basebands.
It should be especially important for private 5G networks to be built in the future in the same way support for bands such as n77 3. For the consumer market, 5G SA compatible devices should be synonym with better coverage and improved latency as devices connected to a low frequency band in 5G but without connection to a 4G LTE and thus EPC could finally be covered directly in 5G.
With the arrival of devices capable of such carrier aggregation, the situation should change significantly thanks to Qualcomm x60 modem or Mediatek M China Mobile for instance has deployed or upgraded base stations to support SA mode and it plans to have million of 5G SA devices on its network in Infrastructure equipment is probably even more important than devices in the early building of an ecosystem, as they are used to test the technology features and concepts, even as the technology is being standardized within 3GPP.
Those demonstrations were often focused on pieces of technologies or concepts, such as Massive MIMO, the use of mm-wave in different mobility scenarios…. Industry efforts have now resulted in early and accelerated standardization of the technologies and as more than operators have commercially as of mid-March launched a 5G network throughout the world, most equipment vendors have completed their 5G portfolio to meet the various needs of the market.
Those solutions share more or less the same features, although each vendor has designed its solution around its main strength. These features are:. As Release 15 is now fully supported by equipment vendors and as first 5G Standalone Network with a native 5G core has been launched by the end of , Release 16 is now finalized. Initially supposed to be frozen in March , Release 16 has seen its frozen date postponed to June due to COVID epidemic and compatible equipment has been launched on the market.
Work on Release 17 has now already begun and should see its feature frozen in September As for Release 16 is considered as the phase 2 of 5G and is aimed at complementing the previous release after the initial calendar was quicken to enable early 5G deployments. Release 16 brings the following capabilities:. Below, we present the 5G portfolio of each equipment manufacturer.
Their claim is mostly similar and as for device baseband, those claims can be seen through different angles. Table below summarizes what stands out from each vendor solution:. As the native 5G core network will be fully virtualized, the virtualization of the Radio Access Network RAN and the development of new RAN architecture are paving the way for the implementation of open and interoperable solutions on the network.
Initially pushed by MNOs to end their dependency on one or two single equipment provider it has been seen as an opportunity for new players to enter the RAN market with software solution while traditional equipment vendors excepting Huawei have been forced to more or less timidly supporting the movement to continue working with some Tier 1 mobile operators. Indeed, in the country, with no more mobile infrastructure equipment vendor on the market, the move is seen as way to rebuild a presence for infrastructures also considered as strategic for the independence of the country.
While still relatively limited in its breadth this move should be seen as a solid trend for the years to come. Recently, certain move by both greenfield operators and legacy operators have shown that the ecosystem was moving in the right direction. At this point of development, Open RAN solution still lack maturity as compared to more integrated and proprietary solution as it require new IT competencies that few operators have yet.
One issue with Open RAN today lies in the fact that, as operators are deploying a new Radio Access Technology, they also need to have an end to end control of what is happening in the network especially as network slicing is seen as a way for operators to transform their business model. The more vendors solutions are deployed in the network, the more difficult it is to identify where error come from when they arise. In and beyond, after early deployments, 5G has expanded its coverage thanks to lower frequency bands.
This works for things like very large earth-moving equipment and mining equipment, too, in which the system monitors itself. A lot of bandwidth is needed, with low latency, to get the information quickly. And if you have to turn around and send something back, you can send it back very quickly, as well. In its most generic form, it is an evolution of cellular wireless technology that will allow new services to be managed over a standards-driven radio interface, explained Colin Alexander, director of wireless marketing for the infrastructure line of business at Arm.
Each of these needs a very different type of network to service their needs. Mobile network operators are trying to ensure they can upgrade and scale their networks as flexibly as possible, utilizing virtualized and containerized software implementations running on commodity compute hardware in the cloud, he noted.
Where URLLC traffic types are concerned, it now may be possible to manage these applications from the cloud. But that requires some of the control and user functions to be moved much closer to the edge of the network, toward the radio interface. Consider smart robots in factories, for example, which for safety and efficiency reasons will require low-latency networks. That will require edge compute boxes—each with compute, storage, acceleration and machine-learning functions—to be pushed out to the cell edge, said Alexander, noting that some but not all V2X and automotive applications services will have similar requirements.
Designing for 5G For design engineers tasked with designing for 5G chips, there are many moving pieces in this puzzle, each with its own set of considerations. At the base station, for example, one of the main problems is power consumption. You get X more bandwidth that way. And one of the interesting things about base stations is you design that technology and then can sell it and use it everywhere in the world.
With cell phones, you design different versions for different countries. For equipment that is to be deployed in the core network or in the cloud, the requirements are different. One of the key considerations there is an architecture that allows software to be easily managed and use cases to be easily ported onto equipment. Power consumption and the efficiency of the equipment is also a key design choice. At the edge of the network, the requirements include low latency, high user plane throughput, and low power.
Software scalability is also important. While analog front ends for LTE solutions are placed on the radio, on the processor, or fully integrated, when design teams migrate to a new technology those typically move off chip at first, then back on-chip as the technology matures, said Ron Lowman, strategic marketing manager for IoT at Synopsys.
High reliability is always important, too. From a processing standpoint, complexity is much higher than what it has been in the past due to such things as aggregated channels, beam forming, different spectrums licensed by different entities — even open spectrum and the leverage of WiFi. Trying to handle all of that is an intense challenge, where machine learning and artificial intelligence may be well suited to do some of the heavy lifting.
This, in turn, impacts architecture because that has strain on not just the processing, but the memory as well. In order for the IC to have the full advantage of getting smaller, it has to go into a smaller package. If I have a piece of metal, it may look like a bit of resistance, but it looks like resistance at all frequencies.
Those fields will launch in other parts of the circuit. These coupling effects are getting more pronounced as I get to smaller nodes, which also means the biasing voltages are smaller. At the smaller voltage, the same amount of noise has a larger effect. Many issues like this come in at the system level for 5G.
New focus on reliability Reliability takes on new meaning in wireless as these chips are used in automotive, industrial and medical applications. We are struggling now to build the development process. We need to look at the interaction of the parts and the tools, and we still have a lot of work to develop consistency.
Jancke noted that most of the concerns so far have focused on a single design fault. Verification people need to educate designers about what might go wrong and where the faults are, and then roll that back through the design process. That has become a big concern across a number of safety critical markets, and the big problem with using wireless plus automotive is the number of variables continues to increase on both sides.
It takes time to see how things work. It takes a network of villages Still, enough companies believe there are enough benefits from 5G to warrant the effort of building up the infrastructure required to make all of this work. The big differentiator for 5G is the data rates that it offers, said Magdy Abadir, vice president of marketing at Helic. The infrastructure has to support the type of data rate moving around, and the chips have to process this data coming in.
There are also frequency considerations for the receiver and transmitter in bands that are GB-plus. RF people have been accustomed to 70GHz for radars and things like that. Creating this infrastructure is a daunting feat, and it cuts across multiple segments of the electronics supply chain. Everything needs to be integrated into the same SoC. To put this in perspective, 2G was all about voice, while 3G and 4G were much more about data and more efficient support.
Another aspect concerns the massive machine-type connections — IoT type applications whereby lots of devices are connected. Planning for an uncertain future 5G often is discussed as a series of superlatives, with a 10X increase in bandwidth, 5X reduction in latency, and 5X to 10X increase in the number of devices. There are always late additions, which require flexibility and that translates to programmability.
At some point, it is incredibly likely that all of the big wireless OEMs will move towards ASICs that get more optimized cost and power but there is that need for flexibility coupled with the drive toward lower cost and power.