Forward Concepts Wireless/DSP Newsletter 7-15-2013

Nokia Goes Bold with Lumia 1020

The 41MP camera is the central focus (pun intended) of Nokia's newest smartphone, the Lumia 1020.  You may recall that I have pointed out that the smartphone is rapidly replacing the pocket digital camera… causing camera companies to now emphasize their big, and more profitable, digital SLR cameras (but they're so 1960s in size and heft).  The Lumia 1020 optical performance easily bests some of the available dSLR cameras and virtually all of the compact cameras.

The smartphone camera trend is probably why Nikon is thinking of getting into the smartphone business. Nikon forecasts a 12% decline in the compact camera market in its current fiscal year.

I won't go into all of the features of the Lumia 1020; you can find details and reviews all over the Web now. Needless to say, the "wow" factor that 41MP brings (and it's implied fashion statement) coupled with superior audio, new Nokia-provided SDKs and other development tools will likely lead to a re-assessment by designers who have been afraid to stray from addressing only Android and iOS platforms.  This could be a boon to Microsoft's efforts to bolster interest in Windows Mobile 8, as well.

As you might expect, full LTE/3G/2G capability is included (thanks to Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform), with AT&T rolling out the first units in the U.S. next week…with worldwide availability to soon follow.

Movidius gets D-Round and Stellar Executives

Begun as a Dublin designer of compact, high-performance, ultralow power, multi-core image-processor chips.  The company's focus has been to revolutionize computational imaging and computer vision on mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and electronic eyewear.

This month, the company announced that it had raised $16 million in D-round financing, but clearly tied to that funding was moving the headquarters to San Mateo California and the installation of new experienced executives. Dublin continues as the design center.  Remi El-Ouazzane, the company's new CEO was recently a Vice President at Texas Instruments heading up their OMAP business unit. 

The company's new Chairman is Dan Dobberpuhl, the founder of P.A.Semi which was purchased by Apple in 2008 and said to be the brains behind Apple's A4 and A5 application processors.  He was the lead designer for Digital Equipment Corporation'sAlpha processor and directed the company's Palo Alto design center where theStrongARM architecture was designed. He later co-founded SiByte where he led the design of a high-performance MIPS SoC processor. Broadcom purchased SiByte for stock worth more than $2 billion in 2000.

At the funding announcement, Dobberpuhl said, "This new Movidius computational image-processing architecture opens up completely new possibilities on mobile devices that were once the realm of science fiction."  "In the near future, high-performance applications like visual search and 3D-enabled e-commerce using smartphones and tablets with minimal battery drain are within our grasp."  That's pretty ambitious, but Dan's track record makes it seem achievable.

Nvidia Shakes up Graphics Market 

Realizing that the PC market is no longer growing, graphics giant Nvidia is expanding its play in the mobile market beyond supplying its worthy Tegra chips for the tablet and cellphone markets.  Last month, it announced that it will license its GPU coresbased on its Kepler architecture, said to be the world's most advanced, most efficient GPU.  The company plans to create a new class of licensable GPU cores that can operate in a half-watt power envelope, making it scalable from smartphones to supercomputers.  Kepler is the basis for currently shipping GeForce, Quadro and Tesla GPUs, as well as Nvidia's next-generation Tegra 5 mobile processor code-namedLogan. The company is also licensing rights to its visual computing portfolio.

Nvidia has licensed its earlier GPU cores to Sony for the Playstation 3 and also licensed its visual computing patents to Intel, so it has a business basis for the new offerings.  Nvidia will continue to make its own hardware, but licensing its GPU technology will “serve the needs of a large piece of the market,” according to an Nvidia spokesman. 

Of course, this announcement has to be worrisome to the current mobile GPU licensing champ, Imagination Technologies and also to ARM for its growing Mali GPU product line. It also puts a damper on newer entrants to the market, like Vivante Corp.  Will this move bring new pricing pressure on the market or will it encourage even stronger product offerings?

Renesas Mobile exits LTE Modem Development

On June 27th, Renesas Electronics Corp. announced that it would terminate its wireless modem chip business that it acquired from Nokia in 2010 and operated through its Renesas Mobile Corp. (RMC) subsidiary. The parent company will terminate the operations by the end of December and then liquidate the business in Finland, India and China.

What is ironic is that RMC once had the only multimode LTE/3G modem alternative to Qualcomm, and most of the test equipment houses employed both the Renesas and Qualcomm chips to qualify their LTE equipment.  Moreover, Renesas' LTE/3G modem (and RF transceiver) was shipping in USB dongles and fully qualified for both NTT DoCoMo's and AT&T's networks (no mean feat).

When the cash burn rate became untenable, the parent company searched months for buyers, but found no takers. It's unclear where RMC's worthy LTE modem IP will go, and if it'll be available for licensing to other companies.

During the month of RMC's founding, I met with its new President in Tokyo where I was shown an overly-ambitious business overview which stated that the company would be #1 in the cellphone chip market by 2015.  I was incredulous, but refrained from commenting. I later entered into an NDA with the company, but the RMC management never told me anything that was not already public, so that was a wasted piece of paper.

Intel and Nokia Get Cozy


In my May newsletter, I extolled the virtues of Nokia's sub-$100 Nokia Asha 501 that runs on GSM, GPRS and EDGE networks. That family is based on Intel's for the X-Gold223 EDGE modem (Infineon heritage) as part of the single-chip XMM2230processor platform, which actually employs ARM (not X86) technology as part of the modem (not as an application processor, since the 501 is not a smartphone).


Now, at the beginning of this month, Nokia announced the Nokia 105, said to be a $20 phone based on Intel's X-Gold PMB7900 which combines the baseband and RF transceiver, enabling GSM/GPRS functions, reducing to the number of ICs to 3 compared to 6 for the previous Nokia 1110. According to a teardown by IHS, the bill of materials and manufacturing costs total an estimated $14.20, allowing a reasonable profit for Nokia.


So, it appears that Nokia may have standardized on Intel's 2G modem platforms for its third-world and entry-level phones.

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As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss

President & Principal Analyst

Forward Concepts