Qualcomm unveiled the next-gen Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 mobile platform at its annual Snapdragon Summit 2022 event on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui. The new and improved Qualcomm SoC aims to deliver smart and intelligent AI experiences across different domains – from performance to photography and connectivity. Below is our quick summary and analysis of Qualcomm’s Day 1 announcement.
AI takes centerstage with Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
A big part of the keynote presentation focused on the new AI experiences that the mobile platform offers. It starts with the new Qualcomm AI Engine featuring the Hexagon Processor and the Sensing Hub. Previous iterations of application processors used different elements within the SoC to perform some AI computation, but the Hexagon Processor was the main AI driver. This could lead to a lack of processing capacity. With 8 Gen 2, Qualcomm is distributing AI processing capability throughout the SoC as well as making the Hexagon Processor more powerful and efficient. The net is substantial inference performance gains while improving power efficiency.
There are several firsts that Qualcomm is bringing to the Hexagon Processor –
A dedicated power delivery system.
The architecture features a new micro tile interfacing and a large tensor accelerator offering up to 4.35X performance improvement,
INT4 support on mobile with 60% per/watt performance improvements.
Qualcomm says the performance boost enables faster natural language processing, multiple language translations, and advanced AI-powered camera features. The new Integer 4 precision (INT4) will allow OEMs to shrink AI models while increasing AI inferencing speed by up to 90%.
Talking about the Sensing Hub, it now has 50% more memory and offers a 2X jump in AI performance. Together with a Dual AI processor, the Sensing Hub controls several AI functions that include:
Different sensors (ambient light, gyroscope, accelerometer, and more).
Voice/audio – like the wake word such as Alexa, Hey Google.
Connectivity – including Wi-Fi, GPS, and Mobile Data.
Always-sensing camera for gesture detection, face recognition, eye-detection, Iris Authentication, and more.
All this processing is happening on the device and is safeguarded with Snapdragon Secure. There are key features such as near-face detection to turn the screen on or off, depending on whether you are looking at it or not. When the sensor detects other persons in the vicinity, it will hide notifications, thus keeping your conversations and alerts secure. Lastly, there is also liveness detection for face authentication, which can tell the difference between a real face vs fake one, thus making your smartphone more secure. Qualcomm trusted execution environment does all the analysis before unlocking the device, and all camera data is protected within the environment.
5G AI processor, faster Wi-Fi 7 connectivity
Qualcomm is bringing an advanced 5G platform with improvements across 5G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The new SoC is powered by a Snapdragon X70 5G modem-RF system along with a 5G AI processor. This AI processor optimizes critical network parameters in real-time, such as channel state feedback, antenna tuning, mmWave beamforming, latency, and more, all this while saving battery life. The chipset includes support for dual-SIM, dual-active 5G+5G/4G support. It can offer peak download speeds up to 10Gbps, and peak upload speeds up to 3.5Gbps.
The Qualcomm FastConnect 7800 connectivity system also brings Wi-Fi 7, first to the mobile platform, with 2X peak download speeds up to 5.8Gbps, and latency under 2ms. Lastly, there is also dual Bluetooth technology offering 2X connection range while consuming 50% less power.
Snapdragon Sight: AI photography to capture beautiful memories
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC is fine-tuned to support new image sensors and deliver advanced photography experiences. Qualcomm is working closely with Samsung to optimize the ISOCELL HP3 200MP image sensor for the Snapdragon platform. It will enable users to click photos with rich details, in full 200MP resolution, 50MP binned, and 12.5MP binned images in low light. But that’s not all, Qualcomm is also working with Sony to develop quad digital overlap HDR technology for video recording and bringing optimized support for the newer sensors. The 8 Gen 2 is also the first Snapdragon chipset to include AV1 codec and 8K HDR video playback support for up to 60fps.
The biggest highlight of Snapdragon Sight is the Cognitive ISP which brings real-time semantic segmentation for enhanced photography and videography experience. The AI story continues here too, where the neural network is contextually aware of faces, people, grass, trees, clothing, and accessories. It will apply AI photo editing in real time while capturing photos and videos. For instance, if you are wearing shades or glasses, it can detect them, and remove the reflection. The AI can boost the colors of the sky, flowers, and much more.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2: Key specifications
The new SoC is built by TSMC on its 4nm process node. Qualcomm says the new Kryo CPU is 35% faster and up to 40% more power efficient. It still comes with an eight-core tri-cluster CPU, but there is a slight change this time around. Instead of one-three-four, you now have a one-four-three configuration. Basically, Qualcomm has added an extra performance core and reduced one efficiency core.
In a nutshell, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 comes with:
One Cortex-X3 prime core clocked at 3.2GHz.
Two Cortex-A715 & two Cortex-A710 performance cores clocked at 2.8GHz (two microarchitectures to support 64-bit and legacy 32-bit apps).
Three Cortex-A510 efficiency cores clocked at 2.0GHz.
On the graphics side, with the new Adreno GPU Qualcomm claims to offer a 25% boost in performance and 45% better power efficiency. There is also support for Vulkan 1.3 with up to a 30% performance boost. The GPU also supports HDR Vivid (which is China’s HDR standard) for producing richer colors and image details. Lastly, there is also something new called OLED aging compensation which could help solve the screen burn-in issue, especially now that most of us spend more time on our devices consuming different types of content.
On the gaming side, Qualcomm has been improving the Snapdragon Elite Gaming features, and the latest addition is real-time hardware-accelerated ray tracing. The company says this helps in delivering life-like reflections, lights, and illuminations when playing mobile games, thus elevating the overall experience. There is also a partnership with Unreal for mobile-optimized support to offer detailed, photorealistic human characters in games. Snapdragon Ray Tracing features will be available on smartphones from OEMs like vivo, HONOR, OPPO, ASUS, and others. Qualcomm has also partnered with game developers such as Tencent and NetEase Games among others to enable these features.
Snapdragon Sound with Spatial Audio and head tracking
The personal audio space is growing, and the popularity of TWS is on a rise as content consumption increases. With the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, Qualcomm is adding support for spatial audio with dynamic head-tracking to enable a premium and immersive surround-sound listening experience. You will now be able to stream music in 48kHz lossless format, even on the new Bluetooth LE standard. And for gamers, the latency has been reduced to around 48ms.
OEM partners & expected timeline
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 mobile platform has secured design wins from several global OEMs, including ASUS, HONOR, Motorola, OnePlus, and OPPO. Even nubia and sub-brand REDMAGIC, Xiaomi and sub-brand Redmi, vivo sub-brand iQOO have committed to using the flagship Snapdragon chipset in their devices. During the Q4 earnings call, Qualcomm also confirmed that the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S23 series will go all-in with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC. Clearly, there’s a lot to look forward to, and the first commercial devices powered by the latest mobile platform are expected by the end of 2022.
After announcing the flagship Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC for smartphones on Day 1 at the Snapdragon Tech Summit 2021, Qualcomm on Day 2, has announced the next-gen mobile compute platforms for Windows 11 laptops. First is the Snapdragon 7c+ Gen 3 platform designed for entry-level laptops. The second is a more powerful and premium Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3, which is also the world’s first 5nm compute platform for Windows 11 laptops.
Designed for always-on, always-connected laptops, significant upgrades on the compute platforms include faster AI and 5G connectivity, enhanced security, audio and camera improvements. Devices powered by the new chipsets are expected in H1 2022.
Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3: Key Specifications and Features
Powerful CPU and GPU
As mentioned above, the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 is made on a 5nm node, a first for Windows 11 powered ARM laptops, and also a major upgrade over the previous generation. It features an 8-core CPU that has four high-performance prime cores clocked at 3GHz, and four efficiency cores clocked at 2.4GHz. Though Qualcomm did not mention specifics of the ARM Cortex cores. Qualcomm says the new platform offers up to 85% faster CPU performance and up to 60% faster GPU performance.
Qualcomm is working with developers like Adobe to help them optimize Photoshop and Lightroom apps for content creators on the go. It is also working with Microsoft for optimizing productivity apps like Office 365, and Teams. It also supports variable refresh rates up to 120fps, making the laptops ready for smooth cloud gaming via Microsoft’s XCloud platform. All this while offering a longer battery life.
29 TOPS AI Acceleration
As AI has become so important for various tasks, the 3x boost in AI acceleration to 29 TOPS (trillion operations per second) is a significant improvement. With this work and learn from home scenario, there are quite a few challenges that most of us face in our daily lives. Just the other day I met my colleagues for the first time in months, and we were working from a meeting room in a shared office space. While I was on a call, the recipient could hear the typing noise of my colleagues’ keyboard.
The other day while on a Teams call, I could hear my colleague’s dog barking in the background, while another colleague had his kid running around and shouting. These are the distractions all of us face, and Qualcomm is using AI to help fix these issues with AI noise suppression and echo cancellation. Qualcomm even offered a live demonstration of the feature in Hawaii, and it worked pretty well.
The other feature includes face detection when on a video call, which can then separate the background and add a nice DSLR-like blur. This feature will help in keeping the background distractions away and focusing on your face.
Support for Multiple, Higher-resolution Cameras
We always talk about smartphone photography and how high-res sensors and multiple cameras are unlocking versatile photography experiences. But when you look at the laptops, they still come with low-resolution HD cameras. This could change next year as the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 platform supports up to four cameras front and back, and up to 24MP resolution.
But that’s not all, the compute platform will also support other features like auto-white balance, auto-exposure, and auto-focus features for laptop cameras. The camera ISP will also support recording videos at 4K UHD resolution.
Blazing Fast 5G, Enhanced Security
Just like the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 mobile platform, the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 compute platform also gets the Snapdragon X65 modem-RF system. With support for both Sub-6GHz and mmWave, it can offer peak download speeds up to 10Gbps. However, peak upload speeds can max 316Mbps. Qualcomm will also offer other configurations, one with Snapdragon X55 modem and up to 7.5Gbps speed peak download speed, and other with Snapdragon X65 modem offering up to 4.4Gbps peak download speeds.
The platform also supports Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E along with Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity. Qualcomm also touched upon the platform offering chip to cloud security and support for Windows Hello face recognition.
Snapdragon 7cx+ Gen 3: Specifications and Features
While Qualcomm didn’t dive deep into the details of the Snapdragon 7cx+ platform, it did mention that it is built on a 6nm node. This will offer up to 60% faster CPU performance and 70 percent better graphics performance over the previous gen, which is noteworthy. The AI acceleration can reach 6.5 TOPS.
But besides CPU and GPU performance, the other big improvement is adding 5G support for this entry-tier compute platform, compared to predecessor which had only 4G LTE support. With Snapdragon X53 5G modem-RF system, Sub-6GHz, and mmWave support, it can offer peak download speeds of up to 3.7Gbps and up to 2.9Gbps upload speeds. It also brings support for Wi-Fi 6, and multiple cameras up to 64MP resolution.
Key Takeaways: ARM-based Windows 11 Laptops get Big Performance Boost with the new Compute Platforms
With the new Snapdragon 8cx and 7c+ gen 3 platforms, Qualcomm now has a very broad and highly differentiated portfolio of Windows on Snapdragon (ARM) chipsets easily addressing the majority of the laptops market and with unique features.
Qualcomm is addressing user pain points with capabilities such as AI/ML across the SoC sub-systems to boost performance and UX with support for high-resolution multiple cameras, advanced graphics performance and noise suppression and echo cancellation features among many.
The new Snapdragon Gen 3 compute platforms also brings high-performance and blazing fast connectivity (5G, Wi-Fi 6E) via X65 modem and FastConnect 6900 system to ARM-based Windows laptops which remains elusive in Intel or AMD based laptops. It also offers great monetization opportunities for operators.
Further, with Microsoft’s support for 64-bit apps emulation in Windows 11 will catalyze applications support on the platform which had been one of the inhibitors so far.
We believe based on the configuration and target geography, the 8cx based laptops could span from $500 to $1200 laptop segments and 7c+ from $300 to $800 segments.
Most of the traditional PC laptop OEMs have committed to expanding their portfolio with the latest Snapdragon-based solution and with current awareness created by Arm-based MacBooks will further push these OEMs to dedicate more resources in marketing and channels to see the adoption of Snapdragon-based ACPCs.
Another big opportunity is where Qualcomm’s existing key customers the smartphone OEMs and operators which are racing to launch connected devices such as laptops can adopt these 3rd generation Qualcomm-based Windows laptops. This move should drive an inflection point for Qualcomm in this multi-billion-dollar segment in the near- to mid-term.
After hosting an online-only Snapdragon Tech Summit in 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Qualcomm is back with a physical event this year. The Snapdragon Tech Summit 2021 event is being held in Kona, Hawaii. On Wednesday, Qualcomm announced its next-generation SoC that will be powering premium smartphones in 2022 (potentially an OEM or two in 2021). Qualcomm is changing the naming system with this successor to the Snapdragon 888 series. Ditching the three-digit numbering, the new platform will be called Snapdragon 8 Gen 1.
The new SoC aims at offering premium experiences with cutting-edge features, from faster 5G to AI, gaming and camera improvements. Commercial smartphones powered by the new Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC are expected to be available by the end of 2021. This is happening for the first time in the last half-decade where consumers will not have to wait until Q1 to get a smartphone powered by the latest and greatest Snapdragon chipset. OEM partners such as Black Shark, HONOR, iQOO, Motorola, nubia, OnePlus, OPPO, Redmi, SHARP, realme, Sony, vivo, Xiaomi and ZTE are already working on smartphones powered by the new Qualcomm chipset. Let us look at the new features and improvements that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 brings over its predecessor.
Fast and efficient CPU made on new process node and architecture
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is the first mobile platform fabricated on Samsung’s 4nm process node. Qualcomm says that the new Kryo CPU is 20% faster than the previous generation, while also being 30% more efficient. The SoC still uses a tri-cluster CPU featuring one prime Cortex X2 core clocked at 3GHz, three performance Cortex-A710 cores clocked at 2.5GHz, and four Cortex-A510 efficiency cores clocked at 1.8GHz.
Qualcomm’s new chipset will compete with the MediaTek Dimensity 9000 SoC, which is also made on a 4nm process node (TSMC). The CPU core architecture on the Dimensity 9000 is the same as on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, having a slightly faster prime core clock speed of 3.05GHz, and 2.85GHz for performance cores. MediaTek is going all out with its true flagship SoC, but design wins will hold the key.
Lightning-fast connectivity with speeds up to 10Gbps
The new SoC is equipped with 4th gen Modem-RF system which Qualcomm claims is the world’s first 5G solution that can reach peak download speeds of up to 10Gbps. One of the improvements in this new generation is that the modem is compatible with 3GPP Release 16, which brings new features like 5G uplink carrier aggregation. Qualcomm and Verizon also demonstrated a live 8K video call. As mmWave deployments rise, this should come in handy for high-res video calls for work, learning and keeping in touch with family and friends. With FastConnect 6900 Mobile Connectivity System and both Wi-Fi 6 and 6E on board, it can offer peak speeds up to 3.6Gbps.
Up to 4x faster AI performance
The new 7th gen AI engine brings up to 4x faster AI performance. However, Qualcomm did not specify the number of TOPS (trillion operations per second) this time around. For reference, the Snapdragon 888+ offers 26 TOPS. There is also a new always-on camera and always secure AI system powered by 3rd gen Sensing Hub that can process data streams while using low power. At the keynote, Qualcomm also spoke about its partnership with Leica to bring Leitz Look filters that will allow users to capture pro-quality images with bokeh effects.
There are other improvements as well, such as a partnership with Sonde Health to analyze vocal patterns of users to detect health condition risks such as depression and asthma. Other hardware improvements include 2x Tensor accelerator performance and 2x large-shared memory while being 1.7x more efficient.
8K HDR, better low-light, and more camera features
The camera system has become one of the biggest differentiators for smartphone vendors. We recently spoke about camera trends for 2022 in our Innovation Talk webinar, and how OEMs and camera module vendors are enabling better photography and videography experiences for their users. With the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC, Qualcomm is bringing its new Snapdragon Sight technology with an 18-Bit ISP, a first for smartphones. With speeds up to 3.2 gigapixels per second, it can capture 4000x more data over the predecessor, including color, sharpness, and extreme dynamic range. In burst mode, it can even capture 240 12MP photos in a second, which is impressive.
The new Snapdragon mobile platform is also the first to offer 8K HDR video capture even with HDR10+ format. Users will also be able to record 8K videos and 64MP photos simultaneously. The platform also includes a dedicated bokeh engine for 4K video capture to help you record videos with beautiful background blur. It is similar to the cinematic mode in the new iPhone 13 series, but the benefit here is that the resolution is not limited to 1080p.
The triple 18-bit ISP supports camera sensors up to 200MP. There are many other camera additions such as a new dedicated ultrawide engine to de-wrap and correct chromatic aberration. There are also neural nets for auto exposure, autofocus and auto face detection. Qualcomm also claims that the new ISP offers 5x better clarity for low-light photos.
The new Snapdragon SoC also enables an always-on camera. So, the front camera will always be securely looking for your face, even if it is lying flat on the table. The goal is to be able to unlock your device in messy situations (say when your hands are full when in the kitchen). It eliminates the need to raise your device or tap the screen to wake it. Qualcomm says the aim here is to maintain your privacy.
In case someone is looking over your shoulder while you are reading something, it can black out your screen, or even lock your phone. But then there are times when you are showing something to your family members or colleagues, and a notification pops up. Here, the always-on camera will hide notifications and other pop-ups. While this sounds good to protect privacy, things could get difficult when you are using public transport where many other people are traveling along with you.
Snapdragon Elite Gaming with 50+ new features
According to the data shared by Qualcomm, there are over 2.5 billion mobile gamers across the globe. It is a huge community to cater to. During the keynote, Qualcomm mentioned that it works with game developers, smartphone OEMs and gamers to bring premium experiences with Snapdragon Elite Gaming features. There is a new Adreno GPU with next-generation architecture that offers 30% faster rendering while saving 25% more power over the previous generation.
Over 50 features are coming to the platform, such as Game Quick Touch to reduce the latency between touch and the corresponding reaction. Other features include Game Smoother, support for high frame rate up to 144fps, true 10-bit HDR, Game Color Plus, Desktop Class Rendering, and updatable GPU drivers. There are also features like variable-rate shading, which increases the rendering quality and performance by changing the shading rate for different areas of the frame. Qualcomm has also added a new Frame Motion Engine that can double the frames for a game, thus offering a smoother gaming experience. There is also the Adreno Control Panel to customize GPU parameters such as resolution, FPS (frames per second) cap and texture filtering. This is similar to what we have seen on the Asus ROG Phone 3 and ROG Phone 5 devices.
Qualcomm also briefly spoke about its partnership with ESL, which is the world’s biggest eSports company. The companies did not reveal the exact details of the partnership. A big announcement is expected sometime next year.
Snapdragon Sound for CD-quality Bluetooth audio streaming
With this pandemic and prolonged working from home, global TWS sales grew 27% in Q2 2021. People are using TWS earbuds to listen to their favorite music, watch TV shows, play games, and even take calls on platforms like Zoom, Teams and Slack. Qualcomm is looking to deliver premium audio experiences with Snapdragon Sound technology on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC.
Support for Bluetooth LE Audio enables an end-to-end broadcast audio experience, stereo recording, and more. The Snapdragon Sound tech can offer CD-quality, 16-bit/44.1kHz lossless audio streaming over Bluetooth. It also supports AptX Lossless wireless audio. This will come in handy when more TWS earbuds offer high-res and lossless audio support to further enhance the listening experience.
Key takeaways: Camera, 5G, audio are key differentiators for Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC
18-bit Triple ISP, a dedicated bokeh engine for 4K video capture, always-on camera and 8K HDR are some key camera features that will differentiate the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1-powered Android smartphones from the competition.
4th gen Snapdragon X65 5G modem with support for mmWave with peak download speeds of up to 10Gbps, upload speeds of 3.5Gbps, and Sub-6GHz carrier aggregation are some of the key features showcasing 5G advancements Qualcomm is bringing to Android smartphones.
Support for CD quality, 16-bit lossless audio streaming over Bluetooth will pave the way for headphones and TWS earbuds to deliver music in its purest form, especially when listening on platforms like Apple Music and Amazon Music HD.
Read the part 1 of 5G mmWave: Ecosystem, Economics Becoming Attractive here.
5G ecosystem is thriving. The number of operators rolling out 5G networks, increasing penetration of 5G chipset-based devices and growing attach rate to 5G data plans, all have come together to give 5G a faster adoption rate than 4G. Close to 200 operators across 75+ countries have gone live with 5G networks within just two years of the launch of the first 5G network. 4G took almost four years to cross this milestone. Close to half a billion 5G smartphones have been shipped globally in just nine quarters since the shipment of the first 5G smartphone. 4G smartphones took 16 quarters to reach the same milestone. We forecast 5G smartphone shipments to cross more than half a billion in 2021, which means almost one in two smartphones shipped by the end of this year would be 5G capable. This is significant.
The Second Wave of 5G
With all this traction, the mobile industry is now entering the second growth wave of 5G. We can call it “True 5G”. The 5G mobile networks are changing in two major ways:
From 5G NR NSA (Non-Standalone) to 5G NR SA (Standalone) architecture, enabling many true 5G use cases, network slicing, lower latency network and so on.
Expanding the spectrum portfolio by adding a higher-bandwidth 5G mmWave spectrum to the existing 5G sub-6GHz spectrum to enable significantly higher capacity, multiple Gigabit throughputs and lower cost per GB among other benefits.
While the transition to 5G NR SA is happening fast, the mmWave spectrum adoption is in the early stages as it is a function of spectrum availability across geographies, though it is becoming broadly available in key geographies in the near term. Further acceleration of the mmWave adoption will be driven by more clarity among Communication Service Providers (CSPs) around the mmWave economics, recuperating investments (ROI), and potentially lucrative use cases.
In the previous analysis (see here), we highlighted how the 5G ecosystem is growing and the unit economics around mmWave, and how it can reduce the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) significantly to help accelerate the ROI for CSPs.
To further help CSPs understand the high-potential use cases and related ARPU to build upon the traditional smartphone data revenue via mmWave, Bell Labs Consulting conducted a detailed techno-economic modeling analysis based on real-world scenarios. Bell Labs has taken Europe as the market for this business case analysis.
As a real scenario case study, a CSP with a 30% share in a market such as the UK can capture nearly 130% more or 4200 PB in additional data traffic annually over the next five years by targeting 5G mmWave deployments in the following scenarios:
Hot Zone Deployment: Transportation hubs, indoor shopping malls, stadiums, outdoor venues
FWA in Enterprises: Offices, Small and Medium Businesses, etc.
Most of the above scenarios are highly underserved across markets when it comes to use cases usually associated with fixed broadband access, choice of service provider, pricing, and service satisfaction. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the growing demand for broadband in households, and as we began resuming normal lives after the pandemic, the hotspot deployments in public locations became important.
The key here is to capture the significant data traffic opportunity at important dense locations across different types of devices by building a high-capacity, high-throughput and cost-efficient network. This can be only driven by deploying a mmWave 5G solution, which offers as much as 800MHz bandwidth versus 100MHz bandwidth available for a sub-6GHz solution. This translates into more GBs served per MHz of bandwidth, reducing the overall cost per GB versus the continuous investments in mid-band spectrum-based infrastructure over the years to capture the incremental data traffic growth in high-density hotspot locations.
From the TCO and per GB cost-savings perspective, mmWave 5G is cost-efficient. Additionally, from the incremental revenue capture and ROI perspective, the business case is even more lucrative. mmWave can complement the 4G, 5G mid-band and fixed broadband Wi-Fi in many scenarios, be it stadiums, shopping malls or offices.
For smartphone use cases, the business viability for 5G mmWave works well in scenarios with 1,000-3,000 subscribers per hot zone. As the subscriber density increases from 1,000 to 3,000, the business viability improves as the ROI period of the 5G mmWave business case reduces. However, the study also estimates that beyond 3,000 subscribers, the business viability flattens out due to a reduced number of hot zones featuring such user density. Therefore, the 5G mmWave nicely complements sub-6GHz to serve in underpenetrated, hard-to-reach and underserved outdoor and indoor segments such as malls, train stations and busy streets. The provision of managed connectivity for office and enterprise premises also looks like a lucrative new opportunity for operators, according to the study.
Consider the deployment of an mmWave hotspot at a train station as an example. This could seamlessly and adequately serve multiple high-throughput (downlink and uplink) use cases, like video security surveillance, analytics, IoT ticketing machines, AR workforce, autonomous ADVs, connected billboards and real-time train arrival tracking. This type of deployment with respect to the investment for enterprise-grade connectivity, driving operational efficiencies and savings, can offer a significant revenue opportunity for the CSP.
For such a use case, a CSP should look at a payback period of just under three years for its investments. This makes 5G mmWave an attractive business case for such targeted applications where there is a latent need with incremental data traffic across multiple use cases and, therefore, a significant monetization opportunity with a faster ROI.
Bell Labs quantifies the revenue boost for a CSP in Europe as an 8% increase in the top line annually in five years. This is possible by serving the users with unlimited data plans at a relatively higher price point than the traditional smartphone data plans but cheaper or on a par with the fixed broadband plans in underserved high-density locations or homes or business users with laptops. The laptops usually contribute to more than 95% of the total download or upload data traffic in a typical office space. This also drives the need for CSPs, OEMs and the ecosystem to have 5G mmWave support in a business laptop as a de-facto specification similar to Wi-Fi 6. It also warrants making available more 5G mmWave-capable consumer-grade laptops in key markets where CSPs are deploying or planning to deploy 5G mmWave FWA networks.
Capitalizing on these opportunities, the CSP is staring at a minimum revenue potential of over $355 million annually in a market such as the UK. This ARPU opportunity could be even higher in markets such as the US, Japan and South Korea, and high-scale 5G FWA mmWave options in underpenetrated markets such as India and Brazil.
In this second wave of the 5G era, 5G mmWave-based networks will help CSPs deliver “true 5G” experiences as well as capture the monetization opportunities not available before. The above analysis provides a direction for CSPs on the immediate, low-hanging and high-impact use cases beyond smartphones, AR/VR and cloud gaming.
Considering the characteristics as well as capabilities of the 5G mmWave spectrum, developing targeted 5G mmWave hot zones will be the right approach for CSPs in this second wave to help scale the network and realize the true 5G promise.
These key strategic considerations should not only accelerate the penetration of 5G mmWave-grade broadband in existing underserved markets but also support newer use cases and services requiring reliable, secure, cost-efficient and faster downlink and uplink throughputs.
Scaling these deployments across public, household or enterprise premises and newer devices, the different use cases will help operators capture the incremental data traffic and boost the top line with relatively faster ROI.
In some markets such as the US and Europe, 5G mmWave offers cost-effective broadband choices to the target organizations. In markets such as India, it could help in enterprise and social digital transformation while also presenting a case to bridge the digital divide as the network and technology specifications mature.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is the first S-series smartphone to support the S Pen stylus.
The smartphone has a 108MP primary camera with 100X space zoom capabilities.
It flaunts a stunning WQHD+ Dynamic AMOLED display with refresh rate between 10Hz and 120Hz depending on the on-screen content.
Samsung launched the Galaxy S21 series in January 2021, which was well over a month earlier than its usual February launch schedule. The new smartphones bring key improvements like slightly brighter display, faster chipset and storage, and improved software. However, all this and more come at a starting price of $799 for the Galaxy S21, which is $200 lower than the Galaxy S20.
The flagship smartphone of the series, the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, carries a price tag of $1,199, which is also $200 less than last year’s Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G. According to Counterpoint’s Component Practice Research, the S21 Ultra costs 7% less to produce compared to its predecessor. This cost reduction is also due to the removal of the charger and headphones from the box.
As Samsung is skipping the flagship Note series this year, the S21 Ultra gets support for the S Pen stylus (sold separately), which is coming to the S Series for the first time. With all these upgrades, has Samsung done enough to offer the absolute best of Android experience? Here is our long-term SamsungGalaxy S21 Ultra 5G review after using it for over six months.
Elegant Design, Phantom Black Color Give it a Classic Look
Gorilla Glass Victus protection front and back.
IP68 water and dust resistant.
Samsung has always focused on the CMF (color, material, finishing) for both the Galaxy S and Note lines, and the new S21 line-up is no exception. At the launch event, Samsung spent some time explaining the lengthy process involved in creating the perfect black color finish. It finally settled on a black film with haze glass (Gorilla Glass Victus) on top.
The result is a clean and smooth black finish which not only offers a good grip when holding the phone but also keeps smudges and fingerprints at bay. Even after six months of usage without a case or screen guard, Gorilla Glass Victus holds up well and there are no scratches so far.
The camera module bump at the back still exists and the phone wobbles when kept face up on the table, but that is not a deal-breaker. The module perfectly curves into the phone’s body.
Phantom Black on the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best black finish we have seen so far.
Samsung has gone with a slightly brighter display (1500 nits) compared to the S20 Ultra (1400). Wide viewing angles and vibrant colors let you enjoy HD content with stunning clarity. Whether you are playing games or binge-watching content on Netflix or YouTube, the viewing experience is fantastic. There is a center-aligned hole-punch cutout on top of the display for the front camera, but that doesn’t cause much of a hindrance when watching videos or playing games.
Unlike the Galaxy S20 Ultra, you no longer need to choose between the highest resolution and highest refresh rate. Instead, you now get an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate at WQHD resolution. The interesting highlight of the display is that it uses LTPO (Low-Temperature Polycrystalline Oxide) technology to ensure optimum battery usage. This allows the screen to intelligently switch between 10Hz and 120Hz depending on the screen content.
For instance, in the case of static wallpapers or when you are reading e-books, the refresh rate can go down to as low as 10Hz. When playing graphic-intensive games or watching videos and movies, the screen refresh rate automatically increases to reach a maximum of 120Hz. There is an option to lower the refresh rate to a constant 60Hz, but you won’t be able to force it to run at 120Hz all the time, and that is not a problem at all.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G comes with a gorgeous screen and quick-touch response time.
For security, Samsung is using Qualcomm’s second-generation ultrasonic under-display fingerprint scanner. It comes with a 1.7x more surface area, and over 50% faster recognition. In my six months of usage, I did find the scanner to be faster and accurate in recognizing the fingerprint and unlocking within a second.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is the first smartphone to be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC in the US. The global variant (like my Indian review unit), on the other hand, is powered by the Exynos 2100 SoC. Both chipsets are fabricated on Samsung’s 5nm node. (We are reviewing the SKU with 12GB RAM and 256GB storage.)
Performance-wise, the smartphone is a powerhouse. During my long-term usage, I did not notice any stuttering or slowdown. Whether it is using everyday communication apps or web browsing or gaming, the apps do not feel sluggish at all. Samsung seems to have worked on improving memory management.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra does all the heavy lifting without breaking a sweat.
With a few apps minimized in the background, the system is not aggressive in killing background apps, even when running demanding games. It allocates enough resources for the game to run smoothly. Samsung clearly has done a good job optimizing the software and hardware.
However, the thermal management could have been better. After playing graphic-intensive games like PUBG Mobile, the back of the phone gets considerably warm in just under 10 minutes. While this was at 120Hz, lowering the refresh rate to 60Hz did make the phone warm, though it took a little longer at about 25 minutes. Similarly, the thermal management is good when recording videos at 1080p, but the moment you switch to 4K 60fps, the phone gets too warm in about two minutes of recording.
Gaming experience is smooth, but the back of the smartphone gets warm when the refresh rate is set at 120Hz.
Another area of improvement could be the earpiece. The in-call volume is too low. I had to hold the earpiece too close to the ear to hear what the recipient was saying. But when playing media on stereo speakers (with the earpiece acting as the secondary speaker), the audio output was loud enough.
Lastly, the battery life of the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G is pretty good. With the refresh rate set at adaptive 120Hz and general daily usage including social media apps, listening to music over Bluetooth TWS, and smartwatch connected all the time, it lasts a workday. In terms of screen time, I got just a little over five hours. Switching to the standard 60Hz refresh rate, the battery life with the same usage came close to six hours.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra battery lasts a typical workday without breaking a sweat, but Samsung needs to catch up with competitors to offer faster charging capabilities.
Cameras: Excellent Shooter in Every Light Condition
Quad rear cameras, including two telephoto lenses.
108MP wide (24mm), f/1.8, OIS, PDAF, Laser AF.
10MP, f/4.9 periscope telephoto (240mm) with OIS for 10X optical zoom.
10MP, f/2.4 telephoto (70mm) with OIS for 3X optical zoom.
12MP, f/2.2 ultra-wide (13mm) with PDAF.
40MP, f/2.2 wide (26mm) for selfies and video calling.
Samsung has made major improvements to the camera system on the Galaxy S21 Ultra over last year’s Galaxy S20 Ultra. The primary camera now has the in-house 108MP ISOCELL HM3 image sensor (1/1.33″, 0.8µm) which brings improved auto-focus, low-light and HDR performance. It uses Nonapixel technology with 9×1 pixel-binning to produce 12MP photos by default. You can click full 108MP resolution photos too by turning on that feature in settings. Photos shot in full res are about 30MB in size, whereas pixel-binned images are around 7MB.
The Pro Mode also lets you click RAW photos that you can edit later. These files are about 24MB in size. There are other interesting modes, such as the Single Take, which records a 5-15 second video clip. The AI then analyses the video clip and picks the best moments in the form of photos with filters, portrait mode, short video clips such as boomerang, dynamic slow motion, and more. I tried it a couple of times, and the results were impressive.
Talking about the quality, the camera captures some stunning photos with great details and a wide dynamic range. The photo below was clicked on a rainy day. It captures the clouds, greenery, the water in the lake, barbed wire and the stones very well.
Close-up shots look detailed. The photos below are able to capture the dust particles on the leaf, water droplets on the flower petals, or the cupid that is well in focus and the background is blurred.
Daylight and close-up shots from the Galaxy S21 Ultra look stunning and detailed.
If you want more clarity in close-up shots, there is a “Focus Enhancer” mode that switches to an ultra-wide lens. The whole frame is in focus now instead of just the subject with a blurred background.
The night mode sees major improvements where it takes advantage of the large 108MP sensor in which nine adjacent pixels are combined into one pixel to absorb more light. The AI can intelligently select appropriate ISO settings between high and low. The result is a bright image with less noise. The photos below were captured around midnight in a pitch-dark environment, and they showcase the AI capabilities of the smartphone.
Night mode has vastly improved, and the photos look bright and sharp.
Now, while the Galaxy S20 Ultra featured 10X hybrid zoom using a 48MP telephoto lens, the new Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with two telephoto lenses with each sensor having 10MP resolution but different focal lengths (70mm to 240mm equivalent). This allows for 10X optical zoom, and up to 100X Space Zoom. Photos clicked with 10X zoom are sharp and detailed.
Even at 30X, the text on the trucks parked some 800 meters away was readable. The 100X ones are decent and usable, but that’s about it. What Samsung has done with the zooming capabilities of its S and Note series smartphones is commendable. Some shots are posted below (ultrawide, 10X, 30X, 100X).
The zooming capabilities are much improved now, with text readable even at 30X.
In the photo below, the parrots are sitting on a hanging cable about 100 meters away from me, and even at 10X zoom, the details are brilliant. The eyes look sharp, and the feather pattern and colors look crisp and clear too.
Samsung has had a lot of competition with the likes of Xiaomi, OPPO and vivo introducing smartphones with a periscope-style zoom. But one impressive thing that I have noticed about Samsung after also using the competitor devices, is the color consistency between ultra-wide, wide and zoom lenses. Below are three photos – in ultrawide, 1X and 10X – to show how good the camera system on Samsung is.
The space zoom works at night as well and I was able to capture some good shots of the moon. Below are some shots at 30X and 100X.
Lastly, the 40MP front camera is also able to capture good selfies. The skin tones look natural, and the AI is not too aggressive in smoothening the skin. Portrait mode is good too, and the edge detection works well in separating the foreground from the background.
The S21 Ultra also supports up to 8K (24fps) video and 4K (60fps) video recording. The 8K video quality is good, and it also lets you take high-resolution 33MP snaps from the video itself. Our Apple MacBook Air M1 first impressions video was shot in 8K on the Galaxy S21 Ultra, and the photos used in the blog are still screenshots taken from the video. 4K videos are quite stable. Below is a small cinematic footage to show how good the recording quality is.
S Pen Support: Great Add-on, Less Functionality
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first S-series smartphone to support S Pen functionality, and it makes sense as there will be no Note series this year. The move was inevitable as the screen size difference between the S and Note series has narrowed down. The novelty factor of the Note series has lost its sheen, with the only big difference between the S and Note series being the S Pen support.
However, the S Pen for the Galaxy S21 Ultra has a few things missing when compared to the Note series:
It does not come bundled with the smartphone.
No dedicated slot for keeping the S Pen.
No support for Bluetooth functionality.
Before I talk more about the S Pen features, I would like to recall the first iPhone launch in 2007, where Steve Jobs shared his thoughts on phones with styluses: “Who wants a stylus? You have to get ’em, put ’em away, you lose ’em. Yuck!” Four years later, Samsung addressed this concern by introducing the Galaxy Note with a dedicated slot for the S Pen stylus. Since then, Note smartphones have been popular among power users. Now, in the current scenario, you need to buy the S Pen separately. To ensure you don’t lose it, you will have to buy Samsung-built or third-party cases.
The S21 Ultra display comes with the same 9ms latency as the Note 20 Ultra for the S Pen to work smoothly. Air Command features work perfectly, and the note-taking experience is like the Galaxy Note series. But you miss out on the Bluetooth feature that lets you remotely control the camera shutter, media, presentations, and more. These also include gesture controls to increase/decrease the volume or to zoom in and zoom out.
The S Pen works fine, but you will miss the gesture control features from the Note series.
Software: Closer Integration with Microsoft Services and Galaxy Ecosystem
The Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G boots Android 11 with One UI 3.1 skin on top. The new One UI skin heavily focuses on optimizations and bringing the connected ecosystem within Samsung devices even closer. It is also closely integrated with Microsoft services.
Samsung has been promptly pushing out monthly security updates, which is a good thing. But it could improve the experience by adding support for seamless updates which Google introduced with Pixel devices in 2016. Some Nokia, OnePlus, Sony and Sharp smartphones also support this feature. The benefit of this feature is that updates are installed on a secondary partition while the system is still running. This eliminates the downtime while updates are installed, especially the annoying “Optimizing Apps” process that takes a little longer.
Moving on, the other complaint is “Ads in UI”, which is not something you would expect in a top-of-the-line premium Android smartphone. Although it is not as bad and aggressive as seen in some affordable smartphones, these ads are visible in the weather app. You also get push notifications from the Galaxy Store about offers and deals on Samsung products.
Samsung offers timely security updates, but ads in UI are a little intriguing.
There is the DeX mode which lets you transform your phone into a PC by connecting it to a monitor or a TV using the HDMI cable, Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. You can view and edit your Word and Excel files, run presentations, browse the internet, access emails, and more.
Connected Ecosystem Makes Handoff Between Devices Easier
Major smartphone brands are now heavily focusing on the 1+x+n connected ecosystem strategy. But unlike other brands, Samsung has a big advantage with its wide range of portfolio, which includes smart home appliances, TVs, audio products, laptops, and much more. SmartThings, which is baked right within One UI, makes using these devices easier.
For instance, I can easily control my Samsung Smart TV and Wi-Fi-enabled soundbar from the smartphone itself. You can do all this from an iPhone app or any Android smartphone too, but the close integration with Samsung smartphones means these features are available right within the Quick Settings and Notification Shade as a part of the UI.
Devices such as Galaxy Buds series TWS, Galaxy Watch and Galaxy Tab models are all closely integrated too. Say you are watching a video or listening to music on your Galaxy Tab and you get a phone call, the video/music will pause, and once the call has ended, it will resume playback. All this happens in a hassle-free manner.
Microsoft Integration Allows Running Android Apps on Windows PC, and More
The YourPhone companion app enables seamless and wireless connection between the PC and smartphone. For this to work, both the phone and PC need to be on the same Wi-Fi network. This integration allows replying to notifications right from the PC. You can also see your text messages and reply to them from the PC. But that’s not all, you can also access the photo gallery to wirelessly export photos to the PC and delete them as well. Sadly, you can only download one at a time.
But the most interesting aspect of the YourPhone app is that you can access and runAndroid apps on the PC. You can browse your Instagram, Twitter or Facebook feed, or even order food from delivery apps. You can also run games, but there is too much lag.
YourPhone companion app allows you to check and reply to notifications from PC, rather than constantly unlocking the phone to do so.
Besides YourPhone, other integrations include the ability to sync photos from your Gallery to OneDrive, andsync and back up reminders from Samsung Reminders to Microsoft To Do. You can also sync Samsung Notes to the OneNote app. Outlook emails and calendars can also be synced with the Samsung Calendar app and vice-versa.
The Xbox integration allows you to stream and play games from your console to your Galaxy phone using the Xbox controller. This feature is offered in those countries where the Microsoft XCloud cloud gaming service is available.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra offers the best premium Android experience, thanks to powerful hardware and a more refined software that closely integrates Microsoft services and the connected ecosystem experience.
The high-resolution primary camera, coupled with an ultra-wide lens and two telephoto lenses for zoom, offers a versatile photography and videography experience.
Elegant design, classic black finish, stellar display and a battery that lasts a day, all make the Galaxy S21 Ultra a fully loaded smartphone for power users.
Also Read: Strategic Reviews and Insights on Latest Smartphones
We saw the first wave of 5G smartphone launches in H1 2019 with prices above $1,000. These premium smartphones gave way to a completely new pricing landscape in just around a year, with the most affordable 5G smartphone coming under $200 in China in 2020. Moving into 2021, we have the ongoing issue of component shortages across the semiconductor industry.
In our previous podcast, we discussed the auto sector’s semiconductor shortage and how it may not ease until late 2021. But how will the chip and component shortage impact the smartphone market in 2021? Will we see the prices of 5G smartphones going down further or will they stabilize? While operators in the US are pushing for mmWave 5G, the other regions are mostly looking at Sub-6GHz. So, will Sub-6GHz 5G smartphones outsell the mmWave ones?
例如：在日本，快速崛起的电信运营商乐天移动一直致力于建设革命性的虚拟化、云原生5G网络，并在毫米波（28GHz）频段实现了低成本高效率的5G网络部署，开始引领5G Open RAN的商用。乐天移动正在建设近8000个5G站点，其接入网络包括AirSPAN毫米波分布式射频单元（dRU），基于高通5G RAN平台FSM100xx（可为小型基站提供调制解调器—射频系统的端到端解决方案）的小型基站，以及虚拟化的分布处理单元vDU。乐天移动称构建全新的5G毫米波网络与直接采用传统供应商设备相比，设施成本降低了60％。
Read the part 2 of 5G mmWave: Ecosystem, Economics Becoming Attractive here.
Change is in the air. COVID-19 has wrought massive changes on how people work, learn and interact. New technology can enable the accelerated changes caused by the pandemic to become a positive transformation with benefits accruing in many directions.
While 5G is a key to unlocking part of this potential transformation, concerns have been raised about the role of mmWave and whether the time is right to roll-out the highest frequencies within the 5G family. We believe that mmWave will be a cornerstone to the success of 5G – though not without challenges.
5G is a Spectrum Game
The success of 5G is a function of the combinations of spectrum used. The promise of building robust, scalable, high-speed, low-latency, and high-capacity networks is based on how astutely communications service providers (CSPs) can leverage one of their most valuable assets, the radio spectrum. This holds true for 5G and will apply equally to future networks such as 6G.
The benefits of 5G compound through the adoption of different elements. Adding 5G NR to an existing network in a Non-Standalone (NSA) architecture gets CSPs out of the starting blocks. But moving to a standalone (SA) core network, faster backhaul and network densification enable more of the 5G promise to be realized. The key driver, however, will be the use of a higher-order spectrum (6GHz-110GHz) coupled with advanced modulation, channel coding, beamforming, antenna diversity, and other techniques.
5G mmWave Value Proposition is Unmatched
As 5G expands to use a wider range of frequencies in combination, it enables greater value. For example, 5G in a limited slice of the sub-6GHz spectrum provides good coverage and faster speeds, but it will not offer gigabit level throughputs, higher capacity, or sub-10ms latencies. However, combine that sub-6 GHz spectrum with a much larger tranche of mmWave spectrum and a variety of deployment scenarios become possible, such as mixing catering to high peak traffic loads in dense urban areas, while meeting broader coverage needs. This enables greater efficiencies throughout the network. Even a 5G standalone with mmWave layer can be better than a 5G standalone sub-6GHz network in certain use-cases, although a combination of them both is usually even better.
5G is defined by its three primary dimensions: throughput, capacity in terms of a number of connected devices, and latency). mmWave spectrum plays a key role in enabling all three. Put simply, if these are the 5G cake, mmWave is the icing on the top.
5G mmWave Cost Economics. Outlook is Impressive Across the Value Chain.
With every generation, the biggest question CSPs look at is the returns on the investments for new generation network infrastructure CAPEX, cost of spectrum, and the OPEX to maintain and run the network. 2G, 3G, 4G ROI was largely dependent on the availability of mobile devices that drove a massive wave of personal transformation from real-time communication to rich content consumption to on-the-go commerce and more. The integration of broad-spectrum 5G and adjacent technologies AI, IoT, Cloud, Edge Computing, Blockchain, etc) will unlock new ARPU opportunities enabling new waves of enterprise and social transformation not previously possible.
These new waves will enable CSPs to recoup the investment in mmWave spectrum, 5G SA core networks, and adjacent technologies.
An interesting recent study highlights the ability of mmWave 5G in different scenarios including dense urban areas, indoor deployments, and FWA to reduce the overall Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) significantly which can help accelerate the ROI for operators eventually. These were scenarios where more connected users, consuming more data on the mmWave only or mmWave + 3.5GHz network vs a 3.5GHz only network. This was tested in China and Europe with both showing promising savings for the operators when the mmWave spectrum is deployed.
Further, with the rise of Open RAN networks (see here) and clever approaches to working with the telecoms supply chain, the CAPEX for deploying a 5G NR mmWave network deployment can be cut significantly, boosting the TCO. For example:
Japan’s fast-growing CSP Rakuten is disrupting the market by building out a highly cost-effective 5G in mmWave (28GHz) network. It is deploying almost 8000 sites using AirSPAN mmWave distributed Radio Unit (dRU) small cell, utilizing the Qualcomm 5G RAN platform (FSM100xx) for a complete Modem-RF system-level solution for small cells, combined with a vDU in a holistic solution. Rakuten is claiming the 5G mmWave network infrastructure implementation is 60% cheaper than traditional systems working directly with vendors.
In devices, according to our BoM Cost Analysis, the delta between a mmWave and a sub-6GHz only smartphone is narrowing fast. For example:
The flagship Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra mmWave variant costs a mere 10% more than the sub-6 GHz variant in terms of total component costs (see here).
For becoming the most popular and best-selling 5G phone this year, iPhone 12, the cost delta between the mmWave version and sub-6GHz is quite lower than expected, which gave Apple to add other important components such as OLED, UWB across the lineup from iPhone 12 to iPhone 12 Pro series. (see here).
With respect to 5G CPE, our research shows 5G FWA is a significant opportunity with more than a billion 5G FWA CPEs likely to be sold over this decade (see here). The cost between a mmWave CPE vs sub-6GHz only CPE has narrowed significantly, offering a great opportunity for CSPs to roll-out 5G NR mmWave networks without worrying about the mmWave-based device costs to impact user adoption.
5G mmWave Ecosystem & Economics no Longer a Bottleneck
While there remain challenges in migrating to 5G, there are promising economic indicators in the analysis of costs and potential benefits. Leading components vendors are already on their third generation of application processors and modems, infrastructure vendors are innovating to enable CSPs to rapidly enhance coverage. And handset vendors are rapidly bringing down the cost of 5G-capable smartphones.
Cost-benefit analyses are pointing to multiple ways in which CSPs can achieve lower TCO and greater ROI when deploying mmWave. As the standards mature, we expect more and more use cases will become possible and this will encourage many organizations to participate. We expect that by early- to mid-2022 we will see an inflection point for mmWave-based networks and devices that will help propagate the transformation is only just beginning.
Qualcomm is the leading supplier of smartphone system-on-chip (SoC) for modem-to-RF-antenna systems and has been extending this lead in the fast-growing 5G smartphone segment as well. 5G smartphone sales grew a massive 1327% globally in June 2020, according to Counterpoint’s Monthly Handset Model Sales Tracker.
With the launch of 5G capable Snapdragon 6- and 7-series platforms, the share of high-tier ($250-$400) is set to soar further in the second half of 2020. As a result, 5G capability in smartphones will be in the mainstream market this year. This is the fastest ever uptake of any new generation technology in the first two to three years of its rollout. The next obvious step is to bring 5G to the mass market ($100-$250) smartphones and that has been the big question this year – how soon will we see a sub-$150 5G smartphone and shipping in volumes?
There is a pent-up demand for advanced mobile connectivity experiences as smartphones become central to consumers’ lives. Mobile operators are also looking to quickly roll out the 5G network to boost capacity and coverage and reduce the “cost per bit” to efficiently satisfy the ever-growing data consumption. Considering all this, at the recently concluded IFA 2020, Qualcomm announced that it was expanding 5G capabilities to its affordable 4-Series Snapdragon mobile platforms available early next year.
The $100-$250 mass-market segment contributes to more than 600 million units of smartphones sold per year. This is a significant opportunity for Qualcomm and its customers to tap into. Qualcomm dominates this segment, controlling more than 40% share. It will look to build on this stronger position to empower these users with 5G smartphones starting next year.
The majority of these mass-market smartphone volumes are driven by emerging markets across Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. So, Samsung, OPPO, Vivo, Xiaomi, Motorola and Huawei have been the key brands driving these volumes with a combined share of more than 90% at the end of June 2020. While Huawei has gained strength in this segment in China via its Honor sub-brand and older models in African and Eastern European markets after the US trade restrictions, the future looks uncertain with the newer set of restrictions. We believe that Xiaomi, OPPO and Samsung will be the major beneficiaries in filling up the big gap to be left by Huawei in these markets next year. In the prepaid markets of North America and Latin America, Motorola has seen growth in its market share and will be important in bringing 5G to the mass market. In Asia, Xiaomi, OPPO, and Realme remain the key brands to drive 5G in the sub-$250 smartphone segment.
The first wave of partners that have committed to rolling out the sub-$250 5G smartphones with Qualcomm’s upcoming 4-series platform, includes Xiaomi, OPPO and Motorola. These are important wins for Qualcomm to kickstart the 5G adoption in this highly affordable segment in a scalable way starting Q1. This should also ignite Qualcomm’s competitors to bring their affordable 5G solutions to the market.
We look forward to more details on how Qualcomm will be pushing down other 5G-centric features and capabilities to these lower-tier SKUs in the coming months. Our initial estimate is that the first set of 4-series 5G models to be launched will be sub-6GHz only, considering the target markets and the OEMs on board for the first wave of these models. However, we estimate a 5G mmWave-based smartphone powered by Qualcomm’s 6-series Snapdragon platform should launch in the coming months, bringing advanced 5G experiences to mainstream consumers.
Qualcomm is already on its third generation of 5G Modem-RF System, including the 5G mmWave module (QTM535), and a clear leader with 100% market share with its solutions. This has also helped it gain a lion’s share of BoM costs in the mmWave designs. As 5G mmWave networks roll out across key markets, especially high-scale markets such as China and the US by early 2022, we could see a rapid proliferation of mmWave designs across the OEM portfolios, targeting differentiation initially in those markets. Further, we estimate the fifth-generation designs should help 5G mmWave capabilities to scale down more. We can expect a first Snapdragon 4-series mmWave model in H2 2022. This will drive the inflection point for affordable 5G mmWave smartphones and newer experiences to mass-market levels, it is a big moment for the mobile phone industry!
Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing, New Delhi, London, Boston, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires
September 9th, 2020
The premium flagship smartphone segment has been the flag-bearer for the latest innovations as points of differentiation brands. While the premium segment is dominated by a handful of players such as Samsung, Apple, Huawei and OnePlus, depending on the markets, the competition has never been so intense.
Product designers at these brands have been meticulously integrating the latest technologies – from chipsets, through multiple system components, to design language, manufacturing techniques, optimized software and services to drive differentiation and boost the top and bottom lines. These efforts create a halo effect around the flagship models that trickles down to the rest of the portfolio to spark consumer aspirations on the demand side and scale on the supply side.
To help the industry better understand what constitutes a winning smartphone and who is driving the greatest innovations, Counterpoint’s Components research practice has been publishing deep-dive analyses on the latest Bill of Materials (BoM) and corresponding supplier design wins. Counterpoint’s latest assessment is on the recently launched Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G smartphone designed for the mmWave5G networks.
Commenting on the research findings, Senior Analyst, Ethan Qi, highlighted, “Samsung has done an excellent job in designing, manufacturing and integrating multiple advanced technologies and components in a very thin and light form-factor compared to the previous generation flagship models, and with a competitive BoM cost structure. The total BoM cost achievement is slightly under $550 with the component cost making up around $468, which is a commendable for a device with a list price of $1299.”
Samsung has launched multiple SKUs for this model, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ variant for some select key markets such as the USA, China, South Korea, and others, whereas an Exynos 990-based variant is destined for the rest of the world.
Mr. Qi, adds, “This mmWave version of the Note 20 Ultra 5G builds on Qualcomm’s reference design featuring the most advanced 5G SoC, the Snapdragon 865+, and the Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF System. The mmWave variant costs roughly 10% more than the sub-6 GHz variant in terms of total component costs. The device also features one of the most advanced camera sensors in a nicely integrated three-sensor module. Unlike the Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G features a lower resolution telephoto lens, omitting the DepthVision sensor, and adding a laser auto-focus module optimized for faster focusing. Samsung CIS camera sensors have come a long way and compete fiercely with Sony for design wins.”
Design wins are a point of validation for component suppliers when OEMs choose their technology for a leading flagship product. For some brands, it also reveals the level of vertical integration or dependence on particular suppliers.
Highlighting the design wins, Research Director, Tom Kang, commented, “Samsung, with its multiple SKU strategy, has a varied level of dependence on vertically integrated internal suppliers and external suppliers. This requires sophisticated system integration. For example, with the mmWave Qualcomm variant of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G, Samsung contributes to roughly half of the costs of the total components, whereas, for the Exynos variant, Samsung’s share goes up to almost 70%. It is impressive to see Qualcomm’s share in a Samsung flagship exceed 40%, as it offers a fully-optimized system-level solution from SoC to the modem, RF and antenna system. Other important component design wins include NXP which combines UWB, Secure Element, NFC, and eSIM in a single solution. Other notable contributors include Qorvo, Largan Precision, Corning, and others.”
The exhibit below summarizes the BoM cost analysis. An expanded version with details of more than 100 key components and parameters influencing the device’s cost structure is available for clients.
Exhibit 2: SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE 20 ULTRA 5G 128GB (mmWave) Share of BoM by Supplier
Counterpoint Technology Market Research is a global research firm specializing in technology products in the TMT industry. It services major technology firms and financial firms with a mix of monthly reports, customized projects, and detailed analysis of the mobile and technology markets. Counterpoint’s senior team comes from technology firms such as Nokia, Samsung, LG, Vivo, China Mobile, TSMC, Qualcomm, Intel, Microsoft, Ford, NEC, Panasonic, Philips and more.
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