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Qualcomm planting seeds for 4K video, silicon brains in mobile devices

Agam Shah | July 29, 2014
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chip has graphics, computing and wireless features that could make it into lower-end chips.

"The underlying foundation is there to support that usage model," Kressin said.

Augmented reality and 4K video could be power hogs, but Qualcomm has added a bevy of new technologies in the 810 to balance power and performance, Kressin said. New LP-DDR4 memory will allow programs to run faster while consuming less power. The memory provides a faster pipe so more tasks can be executed concurrently.

"Because of LP-DDR4, it's much more power efficient," Kressin said. "We really need to look at every aspect of the system to lower power."

Kressin also envisioned 4K video transfers over cellular networks. The Snapdragon 810 has an integrated LTE modem with transfer speeds of up to 300M bps (megabits per second) that can aggregate data transfers from three carriers. That effectively provides more lanes in which to upload or download data over cellular networks. So far, Qualcomm competitors have shown aggregation from only two carriers.

"Because service providers have different combinations of bands and bandwidths, this flexibility improves the likelihood that users can take advantage of these higher data rates," said analyst Linley Gwennap of the Linley Group in a research note earlier this year.

Qualcomm also has the lofty goal of giving mobile devices a "digital sixth sense," with the ability to monitor air and food safety.

In addition, the company also wants to blend data collected from cameras, sensors and wireless networks for social networking and targeted location services.

Qualcomm has the resources and research capabilities to drive advances like LP-DDR4 and make them mainstream, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst for Insight 64.

The Snapdragon 810 could be used in high-end and mid-priced phones, which are doing well in the U.S. But buyers in China are gravitating to low-priced devices, so the success of the chip in that market remains an open question, Brookwood said.

Qualcomm is also facing competition from rivals like Mediatek and Allwinner, which supply chips for lower-priced devices, but are "moving up the food chain," Brookwood said.

"Mediatek should not be underestimated, but Qualcomm is clearly the leader in technology," Brookwood said.

Ultimately, with smartphones and tablets becoming more capable, the need for new technologies is only growing, Kressin said.

"There's a long line of pretty innovative things coming," Kressin said.


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