Faster, cheaper, smaller: The state of the system-on-a-chip in 2014
Buying a phone or tablet this year? Here’s what you can expect inside it.
By Andrew Cunningham
Mar 31 2014
If you’re reading this, the odds are pretty good that you have a smartphone. There’s also a better-than-average chance that you know a little something about the stuff inside that phone—who makes the chips inside and how those chips stack up to the ones in other phones.
About a year ago, we wrote a guide covering most of the major players making these chips, and now that this year’s Mobile World Congress is over and done with, we thought it was time to revisit the subject. What’s changed? What’s stayed the same? And what’s going to happen in the next year that you need to know about?
We’ll begin by looking at emerging trends before moving on to a bird’s-eye view of where all the major chipmakers stand. This won’t give you an in-depth technical description of every detail, but it should help you understand where this tech is headed in 2014.
Moar cores! A MHz race for the modern era
Back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, if you wanted to make people look at your new computers and processors, the thing to do was to slap a big, impressive-sounding clock speed number on it. This phenomenon, often called the “MHz race,” saw AMD, and especially Intel, prioritize clock speed in their CPU designs over all else, even when it caused problems.
The then-record-breaking 1.13GHz Pentium III chip was unstable enough to be removed from the market later; the Pentium 4 was designed to hit 10GHz clock speeds even though it was even slower clock-for-clock than the architecture that preceded it. It seemed like every marginal 33MHz speed bump was trumpeted from the rooftops, and this war didn’t really recede until Intel hit a wall with the Pentium 4—it got so hot that it never got past 4GHz, less than half of what was originally promised.
There’s a bit of a MHz race going on in smartphone chips these days (chipmakers only trumpet their SoCs’ maximum clock speeds, not the speeds at which they can actually run for more than a couple of minutes), but the real lunacy is about core counts. There are chips that have eight CPU cores of varying performance levels, and they’re marketed that way even when no more than four can be active at once. A few more of these chips were just announced at Mobile World Congress last month.
More problematic are the companies that play fast-and-loose with core counts in an effort to make their processors look and sound more appealing. There’s Motorola’s “X8 Computing System,” which gets to eight “cores” by adding two CPU cores, two GPU cores, and two entirely unrelated co-processors. There’s Nvidia’s new Tegra K1, which brags that it has 192 GPU cores without also telling you that an Nvidia “core” is not a Qualcomm “core” or an Intel “core” or an Imagination Technologies “core.”
Like MHz and GHz in the late 2000s, core counts have become a prominent marketing bullet point, at least among certain enthusiasts. And just like MHz and GHz, “core count” is completely useless as a performance metric when divorced from all contextual information. We can’t wait to see what companies count as “cores” in the next year—is an LTE modem a core? Is each individual pixel on the screen a core? Am I a core? Are you?
The high end cools down while the midrange heats up
Conventional wisdom says the market for high-end smartphones is nearing a ceiling, and whether that’s true or not there are all kinds of signs that it’s not growing like it was in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Glowing reviews and quick updates couldn’t save HTC’s One from middling sales. Samsung’s Galaxy S4 sold better, but they’ve tailed off in recent quarters according to thisBloomberg report. ARM’s last financial report said that high-end sales had slowed, and since ARM has a hand in virtually every chip in every iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry phone and tablet, it’s in a position to know.
[Note: This item comes from friend Seth Johnson. DLH]
WSIS Performance Measures: Understanding Impacts on the Internet
By Seth Johnson
Mar 25 2014
Definitions/Usage of Terms
The ITU’s WSIS Indicators
Broad Usage of the Term Internet
Internet Associated with Vertically Integrated Telecommunications Contexts
Conformance, Interoperability, Broadband and the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement
Convergence in the WSIS Project
Internet Governance and “Internet Universality”
The FCC’s “IP Transition”
In the first week of December the World Telecommunications Indicators Symposium (WTIS) met in Mexico City and endorsed the latest set of revisions to the indicators by which the ITU will measure the progress of the WSIS project. The Experts Group on Telecommunications Indicators (EGTI) met just prior to the WTIS to prepare inputs based on their discussions in the preceding months.
The indicators adopted at these meetings show how the WSIS project as a whole will have critical effects on key characteristics of the Internet. They fail to distinguish the Internet from other types of IP-based networks, or to distinguish the open Internet from specialized services. They are also based on a set of definitions for the telecommunications sector that does not clearly provide for legal traditions such as common carrier that assure competitive access by autonomous Internet providers to physical layer infrastructure.
The following presents the usage of the term Internet in the ITU’s measures and offers comments placing the analysis in the broader context, then offers a set of recommendations. The broader context includes factors such as the WTO’s Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, proposals for study questions on broadband and conformance and interoperability testing being pursued for the WTDC, and the notion of convergence that underlies the WSIS project. It also includes various proceedings presently underway, including the “IP Transition” at the FCC in the United States, discussions in different fora on the nature and scope of enhanced cooperation in the WSIS project and on the role of governments in a number of Internet-related public policy areas, as well as on international Internet governance in general, the WSIS+10 review of status, the development of the ITU’s Strategic Plan for the next 4-year cycle, and ITU-D’s processes for promoting ICT development and investment in infrastructure as framed by WTDC-related ITU resolutions.
[Note: NBC Nightly News did lead with the climate change report. DLH]
Cable Networks Largely Ignore Major Climate Change Report
By Michael Calderone
Mar 31 2014
NEW YORK -– The New York Times led Monday’s paper with an ominous headline potentially affecting everyone on Earth: “Panel’s Warning On Climate Risk: Worst Is To Come.”
A major new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change detailed how climate change is already impacting the planet, including rising sea levels, increasingly acidic oceans, melting ice caps and brutal heat waves. The report, according to the Times, “cited the risk of death or injury on a widespread scale, probable damage to public health, displacement of people and potential mass migrations.”
But such dramatic findings weren’t treated with similar urgency Monday morning on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. The three cable news networks largely ignored the IPCC’s findings between 6:00 a.m. and noon, according to a search using media monitoring service TVEyes.
CNN briefly mentioned the U.N. report during two news roundups, speaking about it for roughly 40 seconds of airtime out of six hours.
However, CNN found plenty of time to devote to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The network has been obsessively covering the mystery for several weeks, regardless of whether there’s any new information to report.
CNN led its 6 a.m. morning show, “New Day,” with a roughly 10-minute report and discussion on the plane, featuring analysts. Later that same hour, CNN aired a roughly seven-minute segment on the ongoing search in the Indian Ocean. And just before 7 a.m., co-host Chris Cuomo again jumped back to the missing plane story, with a correspondent in Perth, Australia, and analysts talking for nine more minutes. CNN returned to the story several times throughout the morning.
Meanwhile, MSNBC spent about 20 seconds on the IPCC report during the same six hours, according to TVEyes. (Though host Joy Reid took a deeper dive into it during the 2 p.m. hour.) Fox News, which has long cast doubt on the climate change, despite overwhelming scientific consensus, unsurprisingly ignored the report.
It’s possible that primetime cable news shows will devote more time on Monday evening to the IPCC report. But the lack of attention throughout the morning was notable considering how a relative newcomer to the U.S. cable market handled the story.
Al Jazeera America covered the report more comprehensively during the 9 a.m. hour than CNN, MSNBC and Fox News combined in the six hours analyzed. In addition to detailing the report’s findings, AJAM demonstrated the real-world impact in a report about how some Bangladeshis have been forced to leave their homes because of rising sea levels.
[Note: This comment comes from friend Steve Schear. DLH]
From: Steven Schear <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: [Dewayne-Net] IRS: Bitcoin is property, like a stock or bond, and not a currency
Date: March 31, 2014 at 13:54:48 EDT
This ruling has impact far beyond the surface tax treatment. As noted in Jon Matonis’ article “(The) IRS ruling likely drives a stake into those looking to transform (bitcoin) in a new and better PayPal.”
IRS: Bitcoin is property, like a stock or bond, and not a currency
If you sell Bitcoin and make money, you have to pay taxes on it.
By Cyrus Farivar
Mar 25 2014
Apple’s iOS 7 taking cellular out of networking
Open Garden’s FireChat tops Apple App Store’s rankings days after introduction
By Tammy Parker
Mar 30 2014
Cellular? You “don’t need no stinking” cellular if you have Open Garden’s recently released FireChat app, which is driving interest in a heretofore little-known connectivity feature that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) included in iOS 7.
FireChat enables iPhones to leverage iOS 7’s Apple Multipeer Connectivity framework to link directly via Bluetooth personal area networks (PANs), peer-to-peer Wi-Fi or a traditional Wi-Fi network, obviating the need for access to a cellular network. OpenGarden’s website indicates the company is working on a Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android version of FireChat as well.
Micha Benoliel, Open Garden’s CEO and cofounder, told MIT Technology Review that more Internet-optional apps will be enabled through an upcoming release of software tools designed to help developers build FireChat-style apps for iOS, Google Android, Mac and Windows devices.
Anthony DiPasquale, a developer with consultancy Thoughtbot, said although most developers remain unaware of iOS 7 multipeer connectivity, “it’s an awesome framework with a lot of potential.”
Apple described the workings of the Multipeer Connectivity framework on itsdeveloper site in September 2013. And back in December 2013, engineer Mattt Thompson wrote that “multi-peer connectivity has implications on everything from collaborative editing and file sharing to multiplayer gaming and sensor aggregation.”
However, until now no major third-party apps have leveraged the capabilities offered by the multipeer framework to create and use mesh networks.
San Francisco-based Open Garden’s FireChat app requires iOS 7.0 and, while it is compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch the app is optimized for the iPhone 5. FireChat works much like Apple’s own AirDrop function, which enables devices using iOS 7 to share files with one another using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi once they are logged into iCloud.
FireChat has achieved an impressive number of downloads since being introduced on March 20. On March 30, App Annie said the app had reached the No. 1 spot in the Apple App Store’s social networking category in 13 countries and had made it into the top 10 social networking apps in 79 countries.
Applications for FireChat are numerous. For example, attendees at large events can share messages and photos with others nearby without clogging the cellular networks. In emergency situations such as natural disasters, local communications can be maintained despite non-working landline or cellular networks. The mesh networking function would allow users to relay messages from device to device, expanding the overall network’s reach beyond immediate PAN or Wi-Fi coverage areas.
Devicescape CEO in favor of Hotspot 2.0, but says it’s just a ‘baby step’
By Phil Goldstein
Mar 28 2014
Devicescape CEO Dave Fraser said that while the company, a key provider of a virtualized carrier Wi-Fi network, is in favor of the Hotspot 2.0 standard, that is only an interim solution and more technology is needed to deliver greater value to carriers from Wi-Fi networks.
In an interview with FierceWirelessTech, Fraser said Devicescape is in favor Hotspot 2.0. “Anything that makes the carriers aware of the strategic value [of Wi-Fi] is a good thing as far as we’re concerned,” he said. Yet Fraser also called Hotspot 2.0 just an “interesting baby step.”
Devicescape’s Curated Virtual Network (CVN) counts 20 million hotspots worldwide. The company uses crowdsourcing to expand its CVN, with Devicescape software running on millions of handsets around the world and gathering data on new and existing hotspots.
Hotspot 2.0 is an interoperable Wi-Fi authentication and handoff technology that enables automatic, seamless data roaming between Wi-Fi hotspots and cellular networks. The Wi-Fi Alliance offers a certification program for Hotspot 2.0 devices under its Passpoint brand. Devices that pass this certification testing can be referred to as “Passpoint devices.” Because Passpoint certification is based on the Wi-Fi Alliance Hotspot 2.0 specification, one tends to see the terms “Passpoint” and “Hotspot 2.0” used interchangeably, though that is not technically accurate. Hotspot 2.0 has an access point technology counterpart called Next Generation Hotspot (NGH).
Fraser said while seamless authentication can happen, “it happens in a blunt knife scenario.” In other words, if there is a Hotspot 2.0 Wi-Fi network nearby, a handset will seamlessly authenticate with it, but the device has no real idea of whether or not, at that moment, it’s better to be on Wi-Fi or remain on a carrier’s LTE network. Carriers can tell devices to switch to Hotspot 2.0 networks automatically, Fraser said, but it’s kind of like an on-off switch and nothing more.
Fraser said that’s because, in order to determine whether or not it’s better to be on Wi-Fi or remain on a carrier’s LTE network, carriers also need to use access network discovery and selection functions (ANDSF), which Devicescape provides through a client. Fraser said vendors as varied as Amdocs, Cisco Systems, Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), Openet and Ruckus Wireless provide ANDSF solutions.
Fraser said Wi-Fi access points can telegraph to devices what the state of the network is like, but that doesn’t say anything about what the true experience for the user is going to be, since the signal strength may be terrible or the access point may have 300 people seeking to access the network.
“We think there’s always going to be room for some technology that’s monitoring the quality of experience for the user,” Fraser said. He thinks Hotspot 2.0 networks will continue to be relatively small in size for some time.
No U.S. carrier has officially implemented a Hotspot 2.0 strategy, though some, including AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), have expressed support for the technology. Last week Sprint (NYSE:S) CTO Stephen Bye stopped short of voicing support for Hotspot 2.0 technology, saying instead that Sprint would continue to watch the standard’s evolution.
The Wi-Fi Alliance started certifying Hotspot 2.0-capable devices under the Passpoint program in the summer of 2012, and hotspot providers have been installing NGH software into their access points since last year. However, at this point, Hotspot 2.0 networks supported by carriers are still in trial mode.
FCC opens up 100 MHz of spectrum in 5 GHz band for unlicensed Wi-Fi
By Phil Goldstein
Mar 31 2014
The FCC voted to make 100 MHz of spectrum in the 5 GHz band available for unlicensed Wi-Fi use, giving a major shot in the arm to carriers and MSOs looking to push more data traffic to Wi-Fi.
The FCC voted 5-0 to adopt a First Report and Order that makes 100 MHz of the 5 GHz UNII-1 band “more useful for consumers and businesses, and reduce the potential for harmful interference to certain incumbent operations.” At issue is the 5150-5250 MHz portion of the Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (UNII) band, whose unlicensed use was restricted to lower wattage and indoor operations.
The order eliminates a rule that had prohibited outdoor operations in the band and also increases allowable power levels in the band. However, the FCC staff said that the order also protects incumbent users, most notably mobile satellite service, by placing technical limits on the amount of energy that can be directed up toward satellites. As another measure to protect incumbent users, the FCC is going to require companies to notify the commission if they are deploying more than 1,000 access points in the UNII-1 band.
After prodding from Congress and in conjunction with the National Telecommunication and Information Administration, the FCC had already explored wider use of Wi-Fi in the 5.35-5.47 GHz and 5.85-5.925 GHz bands. However, the FCC is now expanding Wi-Fi in the lower portion of the 5 GHz band, namely 5.15-5.25 GHz, using the 802.11ac standard.
In July 2013, the Department of Defense said the Pentagon does not need access to the 5.15-5.25 GHz band for telemetry, and acknowledged it could be made available for Wi-Fi use.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel praised the move and unlicensed wireless in general. Earlier this month she pushed for unlicensed spectrum in a speech before the WiFiForward coalition, a group of wireless and technology companies that are calling for more spectrum for Wi-Fi. Members of the new coalition include the Arris Group, Best Buy, Comcast, the Consumer Electronics Association, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Time Warner Cable, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and others.
As the WiFiForward group notes, more and more traffic is expected to be offloaded from macro cellular networks to Wi-Fi networks in the years ahead. According to Cisco’s latest Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast report, 52 percent of global mobile traffic will be offloaded onto Wi-Fi and/or small cell networks by 2018, up from 45 percent in 2013.