The smartphone market is going through a wave of change as we are at the horizon of the 5G era. 2020 is going to be the breakout year for 5G NR. While 5G has begun to proliferate in the Western markets and China, the developing markets will reap the 5G benefits at mass-market level post-2022. Hence, the 4G LTE and advanced versions will remain the primary cellular access technology over the next four to five years. Counterpoint estimates over 5 billion 4G LTE smartphones will be sold over the next six years in total. Thus, there is a significant opportunity for the overall mobile industry to bring the 4G smartphone experience almost closer to 5G NR adding advanced features over the next few years. Qualcomm has been baking in advanced features across its smartphone chipset portfolio generation after generation and commercializing it along with its ecosystem of partners.
Qualcomm is the the leader in the sub-US$400 smartphone price segment sporting the Snapdragon 4, 6 & 7 series chipsets powered smartphones.
Thus, to extend its leadership and stimulate the 4G LTE smartphone opportunity, Qualcomm at partner and media event “Snapdragon Media Day” in New Delhi announced a refresh for its Snapdragon 4, 6 and 7 series platforms focusing on this multi-billion opportunity. The new System-on-Chip (SoC) platforms announced are Snapdragon 460, Snapdragon 662 and Snapdragon 720G. Alex Katouzian, SVP and General Manager of Mobile, talked in his opening keynote about Qualcomm’s 5G momentum while also stressing on how 4G is also an important complementary technology to 5G rollout globally, chiming with our viewpoint.
Qualcomm has been actively focusing on bringing multiple cutting-edge features from its flagship 8 series portfolio to the mainstream and mass-market devices. Qualcomm’s Kedar Kondap, Vice-President of Product Management, introduced the newest Snapdragon platforms, its capabilities and what it means for the consumers.
Some of the features which are prominently featured now across the price-tiers include:
- Advanced Connectivity: Advancement in modem and RF Front end, now supporting LTE Cat 13 (DL speeds 390 Mbps) with 2xCA to LTE Cat 15 (up to 800 Mbps) with 3xCA, Dual SIM Dual VoLTE (DSDV), VoLTE with SRVCC to 3G/2G, Ultra HD voice (EVS), Wi-Fi Calling with call continuity between 4G & Wi-Fi, High Power transmit (HPUE), 802.11ac /802.11ax ready Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.1, first to support NavIC GPS and more. These features are very important for emerging markets such as India, Philippines, Africa and prepaid 4G segments in developed markets not only from a consumer but also from an operator perspective unlocking newer features and business models.
- Artificial Intelligence: Advanced Qualcomm’s heterogeneous computing leveraging its powerful Adreno GPU, Kyro CPU, Hexagon DSP and highly power-efficient Qualcomm Sensing hub for fusing contextual and rich data from sensors even in Snapdragon 4 series. This unlocks on-device AI capabilities potentially enhancing the user experience for multiple use-cases from audio, video, imaging, safety, fitness, and gaming.
- Advanced Entertainment: The enhancement in Qualcomm’s Spectra ISP now supports dual 14-bit ISPs, multiple camera sensor setup, high-resolution image capture (e.g. 48 MP), high-speed zero shutter lag, multi-frame noise reduction, HEVC/HEIF support, 1080p video capture @60 fps in 4 series to 4K @ 30 FPS in 7 series, power efficiencies and more. Powerful imaging capabilities in a smartphone is one of the top user requirements. Pairing these features with sharper displays, GPU and technologies make the smartphone content capture and consumption richer starting from Snapdragon 4 series smartphone chipsets.
Summarizing the individual capabilities and outlook for the newly announced Snapdragon platforms today:
Snapdragon 400 series has been a key driver for Qualcomm in 2019, representing almost one in five smartphones sold globally. The key features which will drive further adoption in 2020 would be the advanced camera capabilities, faster Snapdragon X11 LTE modem with Dual SIM Dual Standby and AI engine capabilities which has been introduced for the first time in Snapdragon 4 series. Latin America, Rest of Asia and Middle East Africa remain the key markets for Snapdragon 460’s adoption in 2020.
Snapdragon 600 series has been equally as popular as Snapdragon 400 series but primarily catered to $150-$300 price point smartphones in 2019. This has been the sweet spot in markets such as China and India where the platform is highly successful competing with Samsung Exynos 7 series, MediaTek Helio P series, and Huawei Kirin 700 series. The key Snapdragon 662 capabilities that OEMs will look to leverage in their offerings in 2020 include the 3rd gen Qualcomm AI engine with Qualcomm Sensing hub, dynamic high-resolution multi-camera capabilities, Dual SIM Dual VoLTE (DSDV), Ultra HD Voice and Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo technology among others. India, China, Indonesia, Middle East and prepaid markets of Europe will be the key markets for Snapdragon 660 in 2020.
Snapdragon 730G which was launched last year brought premium imaging, gaming and connectivity experience from Snapdragon 8 series to a more affordable premium segment for the first time. The Snapdragon 720G extends such select premium experiences at a more affordable price-point. The primary features smartphone brands will look to highlight in their offerings, when integrating the 720G platform would be around gaming. The powerful Adreno 618 GPU offers a 75% performance increase over the previous generation along with HDR mobile rendering for smooth gaming, support for latest gaming APIs, Snapdragon Elite Gaming features (e.g. fast loader) and Qualcomm’s aptX adaptive audio technology for a high-quality synchronized audio experience while gaming. The other potential capabilities worth highlighting are the accelerated on-device AI and the latest Snapdragon X15 LTE modem capabilities with 3xCA and FastConnect 6200 mobile connectivity subsystem for advanced real-time connected gameplay.
Qualcomm’s Ecosystem Differentiation
The event was attended by top executives from most of the partners’ OEMs from OnePlus, Xiaomi, Realme, HMD Nokia, Samsung, Asus and others to channel partners Flipkart, Amazon and so forth.
Qualcomm is leveraging its strong ecosystem partnerships to enhance the experiences on these platforms right down to Snapdragon 4 series. Closely working with these different partners across geographies helps tightly optimize OEMs hardware, software and services experiences with these platforms. We believe this is the biggest differentiator and value-add for Qualcomm compared to the competition.
Thus, Qualcomm continues to offer an industry-leading smartphone solutions portfolio that spans across price-tiers and integrates a plethora of capabilities allowing OEMs to bring advanced features and optimized experiences via partners to the masses. 2020 will be the breakout year for 5G NR capable smartphones, but at the same time, the 4G smartphones and users are poised to enjoy advanced 4G LTE-driven smartphone experiences. Bringing in 4G LTE capabilities and features remains as important as the 5G NR rollout considering close to five billion 4G LTE smartphones will be sold over the next six years.