A View from the Top: A Virtual Prototyping Blog

 

Mobile World Congress, Barcelona – Day 2: Performance and cost – it’s a stretch

Orientation on the second day is a lot easier. Enter hall 8 where the titans of the industry play. Make a right at docomo, go straight to Research in Motion and head straight into leader Nokia? Hold on, Nokia was not exhibiting this year at the event! They offered a comfortable Rikscha ride from the Fira to their meeting place. Even though they refrained from the race to show new hardware, they made a significant software announcement with Intel to merge their Linux efforts into one. This again underpins Intel being serious about their Atom strategy for the mobile market.

So what was the stretch in this day? It was the low-end to high-end stretch. On the high end you would find small software players such as a Swedish company, Ikivo, specializing in high performance user interfaces for selecting from your address book or list of songs. Or specialized IP companies like Chips & Media from Korea producing high performance video IP. Of course the big semiconductor companies play in the performance game, such as TI with their OMAP processors. You wouldn’t expect that this processing power is actually needed to drive something as simple looking as an eBook reader, where the display update speed for the sophisticated low power displays is heavily influenced by the digital signal processing done by the processor. What do all of these examples have in common? It’s the combination of performance of software and hardware. It is critical for this industry to optimize both. Many times it can be done using virtualization technologies sometimes it will require additional subjective testing for the final selection as well.

On the low-end Vodafone announced the $20 retail phone (note – this is without subsidies). Customers can do voice and SMS with it. Imagine the amount of hardware optimization that will produce silicon at that cost level. Not only phones need to be extremely cheap to serve the underdeveloped areas, the network infrastructure needs to very affordable as well. Indian developer VNL demonstrated the low cost, rural area GSM infrastructure, which is using solar powered repeaters to get the GSM signal out into the country side. They are able to provide network operators with revenue even at ARPU of $2. Here the simulation of the physical layer for GSM is critical as it determines how far the operator can stretch the equipment. The chairman of the company told me that a local team of construction people can put the battery, solar and antenna on a roof top in just under 4 hours.

If you think the hardware and software content solely drive the technology edge, Samsung proves that you are mistaken. Their ‘Wave’ phone displays the brightest color with the lowest reflection and the easiest touch in the industry. It doesn’t look like they will license their ‘super-AMOLED’ technology anytime soon to their Cupertino based Smartphone competitor.

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