We went, we saw, we learned, and now we are heading home from Mobile World Congress 2018 and the beautiful city of Barcelona.
We spent a lot of time speaking to companies and subject matter experts about 5G, IoT, and what they believe they can offer as either solutions to employ the technologies, or products which can perform well today and into the future. All the talk of 5G, connectivity, and IoT only matters if they 1) work well, and 2) can be packaged into systems with real use cases for industry or for the consumer.
5G is still in the “testing” phase and not officially available to the market, but, OEMs and semiconductor manufacturers are showing products that are 5G ready. At the SK Telecom booth, they had a Samsung tablet in a secure glass case (with no indication of which Samsung model was on display).
And just kitty-corner to SK Telecom, Intel were showing what looked to be a 5G Professional tablet that is said to be available in about a year and a half.
Aside from the 5G claim and the product label which clearly states this is an engineering sample, what stood out about this product is how it stood up – with two hefty kickstands which are part of the enclosure.
Again, 5G isn't here yet, so in the meantime, we are going to have to make due with products like the 'Always-on' laptop products most recently announced at CES 2018. In this regard, Intel also had their version of an 'always on' laptop on display, the very thinly designed and CES 2018 winner Acer Swift 7.
A few halls away, HP Computers had their 'always on' laptops, two using Qualcomm and two using Intel platforms.
'Always On' means the user will always be connected to 4G networks, and the response time from 'sleep' to 'active' is greatly reduced, as in, no boot-up from sleep to use.
Another pre-5G product we spied was a hotspot from ZTE:
The event is called Mobile World Congress, and we went to Barcelona to see many more devices than the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 in person.
A couple of notable OEMs also made their own announcements. Nokia announced several models for an April release date, including a simple 4G 8110 feature phone that pays homage to their popular 'Banana Phone' from the movie the Matrix.
Nokia has added four additional models to their line up, including the Nokia 7 Plus and the Nokia 8 Sirocco, which will retail at over $800 when released. The Nokia 8 Sirocco price puts it in the same high-retail price range as the Apple iPhone 8 and the Samsung Galaxy S9. Fortunately, we are planning on doing Deep Dive analysis on the Galaxy S9 and the Nokia 8 Sirocco to better understand just how their build costs compare to that of the iPhone 8 analysis we did last year.
Another OEM to garner some attention during the exciting week was Sony Mobile with their announcement of another flagship, the Sony Xperia XZ2 with 4K HDR video recording. We did notice the tell-tale signs of a ToF sensor on the back of the phone. We are curious to find out if it will be an STMicroelectronics ToF sensor, or if we will finally get our hands on the rumored Sony ToF sensor.
Speaking of Time-of-Flight sensors from STMicroelectronics, we were told by a source that the Moto Z2 Play has a ToF sensor supplied by STMicroelectronics. We are definitely going to get this into our labs to verify the claim.
Flight, I am about to miss mine if I keep rambling about all of the upcoming 2018 products I saw at MWC this week. But before I go, I do want to mention the most interesting product I saw which incorporates 5G, IoT, and the market. It was an oversized taxi-drone from Ghang, powered by Hisilicon, that looked to hold a single passenger, meaning this is a driver-less drone.
Until next time, Barcelona.
We continued our MWC18 journey today, and I would like to share with you some of my visits to a few semiconductor companies’ stands.
STMicroelectronics has been a leader in the Time-of-Flight (ToF) sensor market, racking up many design-wins with their ToF sensors VL6180, VL53L0, and S2L012AC, all of which we have analyzed.
STMicroelectronics introduced the VL53L1 a few days before the MWC17 and demonstrated it at the event. The new generation ToF sensor has advanced functions of multi-zone and multi-object detection. I had the opportunity to see the latest VL53L1 ToF sensor at the STMicroelectronics stand today, and am looking forward to participating in TechInsights’ analysis of it once we get it.
At STMicroelectronics’ stand, they also demonstrated the 10-bar water resistant MEMS pressure sensor LPS33HW. The LPS33HW is an ultra-compact piezoresistive pressure sensor which functions as a digital output barometer. The Pressure sensor also has a water-resistant package.
We have previously seen the LPS33HW in the Samsung Gear 2 Pro fitness band when we tore it down in December 2017 (link includes die photos of the LPS33HW).
We know MEMS process has been used for producing motion sensors, pressure sensors, RF devices, etc. In audio devices,
however, only the microphone has been built in MEMS – until now. USound today demonstrated the world’s first MEMS speaker at MWC18. According to USound, “With its powerful and efficient piezo-actuators, MEMS speakers can be as thin as 1 mm, be shrunk to a footprint as small as 3*3 mm. Additionally, various electronic elements, such as amplifiers, can be directly embedded in the substrate, to achieve further system-level space reductions.” The MEMS speaker is the result of a collaboration between USound and STMicroelectronics. We look forward to seeing it in end-user electronics products.
MediaTek unveiled its MediaTek Sensio, the first 6-in-1 smartphone biosensor module, in December 2017. MediaTek Sensio is a health monitoring solution to track heart rate information, blood pressure trends, peripheral oxygen saturation levels and more. If the module is embedded in a smartphone, the consumer can use it to monitor daily physical wellness. Today I was able to visit the MediaTek booth at MWC2018 to experience the wellness monitoring.
Below is a close look of the MediaTek Sensio MT6381 module, which we expect to see in smartphones in the coming few months.
Not to be outdone by Qualcomm, HiSilicon, and Intel, the MediaTek P60 will also have an AI engine. The SoC will be built on 12nm die technology and will allow mobile OEMs to feature facial unlock features like those of the Apple iPhone X. The mobile phones designed with the MediaTek P60 are expected to hit the market in the first half of this year, but P60 smartphones utilizing its facial unlock security features are not expected until the end of 2018.
Not only is MediaTek supporting AI on their P60 SoC, MediaTek also put on display their solutions for IoT.
Over the last couple of days at MWC, we have focused on 5G technology, IoT use cases, new communications, and new ICs and chipsets. Tomorrow, we will wrap up by focusing on the products that use these technologies and components. Some of the products, we were told, we could buy and analyze today; some are said to be available in the very near future (like the Samsung S9); and some will be available as far as a year-and-half away.
Since the MWC18 Pre-Show on Sunday, we have heard the words "5G" and "IoT” many times - in keynote speeches, booths, and even just casual conversations over lunch. And up until today, we were just 'talking' about 5G, so as soon as we disembarked from our bus we headed to the booths to finally see 5G in action.
In December 2017, the 3GPPS approved the initial 5G New Radio
(NR) specifications, and commercial 5G networks are continuing to be tested in the real world. Just recently, a 5G network test trial was run on the slopes at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Even here in Barcelona, Telefonica and Ericsson are conducting 5G NR radio trials today.
Our interests are in the parts which will bring 5G mainstream, and to our mobile phones, our homes, and our industries. And up until today we have only 'heard' about the new tech, but we had not seen any demonstrations, or an actual 5G component. However, at Qualcomm’s booth we had chance to watch our first of two demonstrations of this amazing 5G network.
There are always challenges with any new technology, and for 5G, data throughput and latency are two of the most important parameters for the 5G NR. Our visit to the Qualcomm booth shows a sub-6GHz and mmWave data communication demo showing the 5G NR has a much higher throughput and a reduced latency compared to today’s LTE network.
A visit to one of the Huawei booths earned us a look at their recently announced 5G CPE (Customer Premise Equipment) unit with a report peak download rate of 2.3 Gbps. Huawei has confirmed the CPE will be available for sale within the year.
The CPE is designed on a HiSilicon Hi6965 modem from their Balong 5G01 platform.
At the MWC18, Samsung also revealed the FCC-approved 5G CPE for late 2018 use, which includes 5G home routers for both indoors and outdoors and 5G Radio Access Network (RAN).
It is reported that AT&T and Verizon will have the 5G services ready by the end of this year in a few cities in the US. Meanwhile, Sprint is aiming to have its 5G network ready for the first half of 2019. Globally, many carriers will debut their 5G networks in 2019.
5G is on the way and we are excited for it.
NB-IoT seems to be the most popular of the IoT solutions mentioned at MWC18, and in China, leading carrier China Mobile reports they have already launched the NB-IoT networks in 346 cities using chipsets from 5 silicon suppliers including Huawei, MediaTek, Qualcomm, ZTE's Sanechips, and RDA. There are 15 NB-IoT modules available for use on the China Mobile network using the chipsets. The other two carriers - China Telecom and China Unicom - are very active in building the NB-IoT networks, too.
Just a few days ago, Chinese fabless Goodix - known more for their presence in the touch screen controller and fingerprint sensor market - announced they have entered the NB-IoT field with their acquisition of the German-based CommSolid GmbH, a leader in cellular IP.
And to prove just how far along the Goodix/CommSolid solution is, the company conducted a live demo on the Vodafone network here in Barcelona, and had an active connection on Deutsche Telecom's network in Germany.
Figure 6 Image: Goodix / CommSolid Live NB-IoT demo on the Vodafone Network
Admittedly we haven't focused on ZTE as a radio platform IC solution, but that could all change as more semiconductor companies and businesses enter the IoT. Here, ZTE is showing a few NB-IoT modules including their solution based on the Sanechips Rosefinch 7100 chipset.
Figure 7 ZTE’s NB-IoT solution based on the Sanechips Rosefinch 7100 chipset
TechInsights has analyzed the Qualcomm MDM9206 and HiSilicon Boudica 120 NB-IoT SoCs, and we have the MediaTek, RDA and other NB-IoT SoCs currently on our analysis roadmap. We are currently launching a new subscription product called ChipSelect IoT to bring our IoT analysis to our customers and help them understand this quickly-changing market space.
Although facial recognition is now a very hot topic for Apple, for Android smartphones the fingerprint sensor is still the dominant solution.
There are a few fingerprint sensor silicon suppliers showing at the MWC18. I visited the Taiwanese companies Egis, Elan, and mainland China company Goodix.
Egis is doing pretty well in developing new customers - I was told by Egis that they have a design-win in a global top 5 smartphone manufacturer’s flagship phone. TechInsights analyzed an Egis fingerprint sensor in 2016, and we look forward to seeing their new offering.
Elan’s fingerprint sensor products have been used in many smartphones. What we find interesting at MWC this year is the biometric smartcard below that is based on their fingerprint sensor. As far as we know, this is the second biometric smartcard, following the Fingerprint Cards’ FPC1320.
Figure 9 ELAN Technologies’ Smart-ID Card as shown at MWC2018
With smartphones trending toward larger screens with higher screen-to-body ratios, a fingerprint sensor located on the front will definitely affect that ratio. We have recently purchased the Vivo X20 Plus UD smartphone, the world’s first in-display fingerprint sensor phone based on Synaptics’ optical fingerprint sensor, and we are looking forward to launching our analysis of it.
Figure 10 Synaptics' optical-based fingerprint sensor
When I visited the Goodix booth, they told me that they would have their optical-based fingerprint sensor ready within the next few months. It sounds like more and more Android smartphones will adopt the optical fingerprint sensor starting this year.
After an exciting first day and a good night's sleep, we started our Day #2 of Mobile World Congress at the Fira Gran Via location. Upon arrival, Daniel and I quickly parted ways with a sincere "see you later" as we went to seek our own adventures in the multiple halls packed with companies and technologies looking to find their place and make their mark in this new Industrial 4.0 revolution.
Graphene is the new material on many techie minds. There is even an entire section in Hall 8 just for Graphene products.
So, what is graphene, and how does it play a role in technology?
Graphene has several advantages. First, its strength. The powder form is being used in bicycle frames. Another advantage, and the one we are more interested in at TechInsights, it is a good conductor of electricity - 'cause let's face it, you can have the biggest and best mobile device, but it is nothing without electricity.
Early adoptions are looking to be employed in mobile phone batteries specifically, however as you can see in the roadmap, the graphene-ites have big plans for this little carbon material.
In four years, according to many experts, 5G will have been deployed to much of the world, the number of use cases in IoT will be 10- to 20-fold of those we are seeing this week. And it should be noted, neither of these technologies were as popular four years ago as they are today.
So, with that in mind, and hoping to find the next future wave of tech, a jaunt over to the Fira Montjuic site took us to a sea of creative entrepreneurs loosely contained within sustainable and recyclable cardboard stands.
Strolling through the aisles, there were some good kick-starter prospects, including this station which the creator explained was targeted towards the physical rehab market, making rehabilitation fun with a station that looks as if it was built by Marty McFly and Doc Brown from the movie Back to the Future.
Figure 5: Air Guitar Physical Rehab station at 4YFN MWC2018
To close out today, let’s talk a little more about IoT but in a different light, as in a new technology called LiFi: a data transfer technology which uses LED lights to transfer data.
My very first LiFi product demo was from a company called Oledcomm. They kindly took the time to explain to me their two products, GeoLiFi for IoT applications and uses cases such as hospitals and retail stores to just give some examples. They also have a consumer product for the home applications where they can deliver internet connectivity to the consumer at 23 Mb/s. That may seem a little limited, however, because there are no radio bands to share, the user has access to the entire 23 Mb/s bandwidth.
As with a lot of new technologies, this won’t be cheap. But you should know the product is assembled in France and made of higher quality aluminum materials. Oledcomm is currently on Kickstarter, where you can order one of the above packages for a slightly discounted price. General availability is expected in July.
We are by no means done with our 2nd day touring, but maybe for posting purposes, this is where we sign off for now.
Mobile World Congress, day 1, started off with excitement and lots and lots of talk about 5G, latency, AI, net neutrality, robots, deep learning, semiconductor manufacturing, 5G, latency, AI, net neutrality, robots, deep learn….
So many solutions, so many names, but all promoting the same things – 5G is coming, IoT for the home, office, industrial, and health care are only the beginning of use cases, and there were a few panels of experts explaining the importance of every detail from the need to achieve 1ms latency in 5G to why IoT depends on trust, and thus, security of our data.
Today was a quite busy day at the MWC pre-event: Huawei, LG Electronics, ZTE, Nokia, all announced new products.
LG Electronics introduced its V30S ThinQ, ZTE introduced its Blade v9, Nokia introduced its Nokia 8 Sirocco, the Nokia 1, and a throwback to the 'banana' phone, the 8810 (with color snake just like their recent Nokia 3310).
To our surprise, Huawei announced the 5G chipset named Balong 5G01 at their press event. The company claimed that the Balong 5G01 is the world's first 3GPP 5G commercial chipset with peak download rate 2.3Gbps. It supports sub-6GHz and mmWave multi-frequency. Huawei also announced the 5G CPE (Consumer Premise Equipment) in sub-6GHz and mmWave. Huawei did not give a time table for the availability of the CPE.
As a side story, Qualcomm announced 2 weeks ago that they started sampling the Snapdragon X24 (2Gbps) LTE modem. Huawei did not disclose the process node under which the Balong 5G01 modem is fabbed; however, Qualcomm said their Snapdragon X24 is fabbed in 7nm FinFET. We are very eager to analyze both, and predict that they might be available for purchase in H218.
While we awaited the Samsung Unpacked reveal show, we started our warm-up for Mobile World Congress at the ShowStoppers event at the Universitat de Barcelona with companies like Ottawa based EdgeWater Wireless and the German company AVM showing their Fritz line products.
The connected devices within our homes account for a large portion of the billions of connected devices that form the Internet of Things; Matt Massey from Edgewater Wireless told us the latest estimates are 40 connected devices per household. Most of these devices are using WiFi as the radio connection of choice instead of other available techs like Bluetooth 5, Zigbee, or Z-Wave. WiFi is where Edgewater's 26 patents come into play with their WiFi3 accesspoint products like the AERA™ wireless router.
Edgewater has their own WiFi SoC; their products use three dedicated WiFi channels, a dedicated transmitting antenna and a dedicated receiving antenna. They are currently working with Kroeger Co. to give Kroeger's customers enhanced shopping experiences using their smartphones and Wifi connectivity.
Keeping with our lessons on WiFi connectivity, we later stopped by AVM, a German company. AVM intrigued us because they not only build their Fritz products in the higher-cost labor market of Germany, but also because they can use software upgrades on legacy Fritz products to use today's newer technologies. AVM says they have had long relationships with Intel, Qualcomm, and even Broadcom – the first two they confirmed they use in their designs.
AVM did concede the introduction of WiFi 802.11ax will require new hardware which they have been developing already for some time. WiFi 802.11ax is still quite young in the market so there is time to deliver high quality Fritz products. Their product manager, Dirk Hartel, stressed AVM will still build their new 802.11ax products in Germany to keep their build quality high and the manufacturing response time low.
Another exciting Mobile World Congress, more exciting product announcements, and another Galaxy revealed. Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones are officially unveiled here in Barcelona today, i.e., Feb 25, 2018 at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018 pre-event. Compared to Galaxy S8 and S8+’s unveiled date of March 29, 2017 in New York, this year saw Samsung return to MWC to announce the phone a full month earlier than they did last year.
The Galaxy S9 and S9+ will be powered by either Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 or Samsung Exynos 9810 Application Processor (AP) per regions. Both APs are fabbed by Samsung at its 10nm LPP (Low Power Plus) process that is Samsung’s second generation 10nm FinFET process. According to Samsung, the 10LPP process technology allows up to 10% higher performance or 15% lower power consumption compared to its first generation 10nm LPE (Low Power Early). TechInsights has already analyzed the Samsung 10LPE process technology by examining the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 and Samsung Exynos 8895 APs. We have published a few competitive technical analysis reports such as Digital Functional Analysis Report (DFAR), Advanced CMOS Essentials (ACE), Transistor Characterization Report.
Once we have the Galaxy S9 and S9+ in-hand, we will tear them down and publish our findings on TechInsights’ blog. We will also analyze the Samsung 10LPP process in a few report formats. The Galaxy S9 is expected to include an improved Iris scanner, where we found that the Galaxy S8 used the same Iris scanner that was in the Galaxy Note 7. Once we have confirmed the new Iris scanner (if, in fact, it is new), we will launch analysis activities around it.
We also expect that the Galaxy S9 will install Samsung’s own 3-stack fast readout CMOS Image Sensor (CIS).
It is February, and as they always do this time of year, our thoughts turn to love, Valentine’s Day… and Mobile World Congress (MWC). MWC 2018 will take place in Barcelona from February 26 to March 1, and as the world’s leading company that reveals the innovations in electronics and semiconductor devices, TechInsights will be walking the halls, speaking with industry leaders, and visiting booths we know will be full of this year’s latest innovations in the mobile market.
Smartphone manufacturers usually announce their flagship smartphones at MWC, and this year we are anticipating announcements from Samsung, Xiaomi, and a few other world-leading smartphone OEMs.
Already on our agenda - the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ announcements, of course. We are hoping to get as close as a glass case will allow us to gaze upon the much-anticipated Samsung response to the Apple iPhone X. We are a little disappointed we won't be able to see the Huawei P20 as well, but, all in good time.
For our part, TechInsights has already planned to tear down the Samsung Galaxy S9/S9 Plus as soon as we can get the phone in-hand, the Huawei flagship will follow as soon as it comes out, and we plan to analyze the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 or Samsung Exynos 9810 APU, CMOS Image Sensors, and memories.
Even though the Huawei P20 won't be there, we know MWC 2018 will have plenty of other new and exciting products to look at, touch, and learn about. Aside from the Samsung Galaxy S9 reveal, we are scheduled to take part in a demo from Elliptic Labs showing off their touch-free gesture control on a Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 running on a Snapdragon 845.
The organizer has developed 8 core themes for this year’s show; the first of which being “The 4th Industrial Revolution,” which is expected to be driven by market growth in the Internet of Things (IoT). Growth in IoT will encourage evolution in most industries; this is a revolution of connected technologies, and those who that fall behind will fade into obscurity.
Many IoT products will be demoed or announced at MWC, and we will be publishing our thoughts on those that catch our attention during the show through blogs and social media.
As a side note, TechInsights has product teardowns and deeper-level SoC analysis on many consumer and industrial IoT electronics including smartwatches, fitness bands, smart home products and NB-IoT SoCs. In fact, we are in the middle of launching a subscription product - ChipSelect IoT - to gather our IoT analysis for easy customer access.
Other themes from this year’s MWC that caught our attention in particular include “The Network” and “Applied AI.” 5G and AI are both hot topics in our industry, and we have analyzed smartphone APUs that leverage AI such as Apple A11X, HiSilicon Kirin 970, Google/Intel Pixel Visual Core, etc. It is expected that Qualcomm and Samsung will release similar products very soon.
As we know from past years, MWC will offer more new products than we know to anticipate, and we are excited to see what the show will have to offer. See you soon, Barcelona!
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