Samsung, Qualcomm, and Huawei each announced their new 5G mobile system on chips (SoCs) at the IFA Consumer Electronics Show held in Berlin, Germany last week. While the 3 chips are not identical, they all share one common feature: an integrated 5G modem.
While this move by Qualcomm—the dominant force in the U.S. market—could have been seen as somewhat expected, Samsung and Huawei’s announcements are a clear indicator that the world’s 2 largest smartphone manufacturers are trying to take the lead and deliver to the world the widespread availability of 5G devices.
At the show, Qualcomm announced that mass production for its SoCs will begin in 2020; however, Samsung at the end of 2019, and Huawei in September 2019, with the release of its Mate 30 Pro smartphone that will include its most advanced processor to date.
The Exynos 980: Samsung’s first AI mobile processor with an integrated 5G modem. Image courtesy of Samsung.
Samsung’s AI Mobile Processor
Samsung’s announcement marks its first AI mobile processor with an integrated 5G modem: the Exynos 980, which uses its advanced 8nm FinFET processor technology.
Supporting 5G—all the way down to 2G—networks, the model provides gigabit downlink speed in 4G LTE and up to 2.55 Gbps in sub-6 GHz 5G. It also supports Evolved Universal Terrestrial-New Radio, aka E-UTRA-NR dual-connectivity that combines 2CC LTE and 5G connectivity to boost mobile downlink speeds up to 3.55Gbps.
Additionally, Wi-Fi 6, the new IEEE 802.11ax standard, is also supported to help provide faster speed and better overall stability.
Qualcomm's Snapdragon Expansion
Qualcomm announced its new chip as an extension to the Snapdragon portfolio. The company plans to base chips across the Snapdragon 8, 7, and 6 Series on its X55 5G modem-RF system. This system integrates a commercial 5G modem, RF transceiver and front-end, mmWave antenna models, all alongside the required software for advanced power-saving 5G technologies.
Qualcomm's 5G modem-RF. Image courtesy of Qualcomm, via RCR Wireless News.
Qualcomm announced that it’s the Snapdragon 7 Series 5G Mobile Platform that will come available first in Q4 2019. This chip will integrate 5G into the 7nm SoC, while the Snapdragon 6 Series 5G chips are expected to become available around Q2/Q3 2020.
Huawei's Kirin 990: The ‘World’s First’ Flagship 5G SoC
With what it claims to be the world’s first flagship 5G SoC—the Kirin 990 5G chip—it was Huawei that stole the show.
The Kirin 990 5G contains 10.3 billion transistors and is manufactured using TSMC’s 7nm+ process, which is designed with extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV). It supports both non-standalone and standalone radio architecture simultaneously. As mentioned above, it will be featured in the Huawei Mate 30 smartphone.
The Kirin 990 is available in 2 versions: 1 that supports 5G and 1 that supports up to 4G only. The primary difference between the Kirin 990 5G and the Kirin 990 (4G) is that the 5G chip is manufactured using the said 7nm+ EUV process, whereas the latter just uses 7nm. The Kirin 990 5G also features 2 cores instead of 1.
What Do These Announcements Mean for Electronics and Electrical Engineers?
These chips are a huge leap forward from what’s currently available.
Perhaps what is the most interesting of the three is the neural processing unit that is used within the Kirin 990 5G SoC. It is a coprocessor that has been optimised for machine learning frameworks: Huawei claims that it can automatically distribute workloads—voice recognition and natural language processing, for example—across its computing architecture.
At a more basic level, these chips allow engineers and product manufacturers to pack a whole lot more in. The Samsung Exynos 980, for example, supports IEEE 802.11ax, which provides greater stability for online gaming, high-resolution video streaming, and immersive AR and VR experiences.