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September 11, 2014

Qualcomm Targets Inexpensive Smartphones with New Chip

Qualcomm and ARM are the foundations for operating mobile devices.  Qualcomm supplies the baseband processor as well as licensing for its technology, allowing others to manufacture the processor.  ARM licenses the design architecture for mobile processors.

Last year Qualcomm had a 50 percent share in the smartphone application processor market and an 86 percent market share for LTE devices.

This year, according to Strategy Analytics, Qualcomm is attributed with 66 percent of the global cellular baseband processor market. Qualcomm continues to dominate this market due to a very powerful 4G LTE portfolio. However, in China Qualcomm’s competitor is MediaTek, which has a 40 percent share of the smartphones shipped in third quarter 2014. Qualcomm only has a 27 percent at this time. It does seem that the company wants a larger slice of the pie.

One thing that we have seen over the past year is a push to expand LTE services to more regions of emerging markets. In many instances this is the only way that they can have access to the Internet, thus affording these areas a lot of services. Of course, since these regions are not known for having a high income level, most people can only afford feature phones.

Qualcomm is looking to change that and with that in mind, the company announced on September 10, 2014 that it would be offering an LTE-enabled system on chip (SoC) called the Snapdragon 210. This new version is designed for the entry-level market. Qualcomm co-president, Cristiano Amon, told Engadget in Hong Kong that the company is specifically aiming at the off-contract sub-$100 smartphone market.

The features that you can expect to see in the Snapdragon 210 chip include:

  • Seamless, advanced LTE connectivity with fully integrated 4G LTE-Advanced Cat 4 Carrier Aggregation, LTE Broadcast and LTE Dual SIM/Dual Standby
  • High-quality, cost-effective multimedia experiences with Full-HD (1080p) playback with hardware HEVC
  • Enhanced performance and power efficiency in the entry-level tier with up to 1.1 GHz quad-core Cortex-A7 CPU and Qualcomm Adreno 304 graphics
  • Superior camera capabilities, including up to 8 megapixel camera support and leading enhanced computational camera functionalities, including Zero Shutter Lag, high dynamic range (HDR), autofocus, auto white balance and auto exposure
  • Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 support, enabling up to 75 percent faster battery charging than devices without fast charging technology

Qualcomm has been working with several Indian handset manufacturers to develop reference designs to bring out the entry-level 4G devices next year. Micromax Informatics Limited is one of the leading consumer electronics company in India, its vice present of product management, Sanjay Kapoor, said the company was in discussions with Qualcomm to deliver 4G-enabled devices. "As infrastructure on LTE develops in India, we will come out with better and cost-effective devices."

Earlier this year, Qualcomm’s CEO, Steve Mollenkopf, commented that globally eight billion new smartphones will be sold in the next five years. Although the company is focused on both high and low end smartphones, Mollenkopf admits that worldwide low end smartphones will be able to penetrate markets more easily. Is this the reasoning behind developing the Snapdragon 210 at this time?

Qualcomm's launch does seem to underline the focus on low-cost smartphones in countries such as India and China, where millions of feature phone users, which is over 70 percent of the total, are expected to upgrade to smartphones over the next few years. Some experts say the key to wider adoption of 4G in India is affordable handsets. The Snapdragon 210 makes this possible.

As I mentioned before, there is a push to extend LTE networks into more regions in emerging markets, however, this will still take some time to achieve. With that in mind, Qualcomm has also announced the Snapdragon 208 SoC, designed for 3G only use. It features dual-core (up to 1.1GHz) ARM Cortex-A7 CPUs, Adreno 304 GPU and can display up to qHD (540x960 pixels) resolutions.

Jeff Lorbeck, SVP and COO at Qualcomm Technologies, China, said "We are committed to delivering high-performance connected mobile experiences across all tiers of our product portfolio. These announcements further cement our commitment in broadly driving LTE and LTE Advanced to enable our customers the flexibility to deliver high-speed connectivity and an advanced mobile experience at affordable prices."

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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