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Qualcomm's first quad-core Snapdragon chips are here, but they're not cheap

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July 25, 2012

Qualcomm's first Quad Core Snapdragon chips are finally here in a tablet, but one thing is for sure-- they're not cheap.

At $1,300 each, they're among the top-three most expensive CPUs ever made, and the price has surprised more than one observer.

The new tablets in question feature an APQ-8064 Snapdragon S4 quad-core CPU, one of the most highly-anticipated quad-core ARM processor. Qualcomm S4 silicon (currently dual-core) can be found in popular mobile devices, including the Samsung Galaxy S III and the HTC One S.

The S4 is also slated to appear in the 4G version of the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity tablet as well. We can expect the quad-core Qualcomm chip to find its way into Verizon phones at some point, in addition to tablets.

For now, the only quad-core ARM rival is the Nvidia Tegra 3, used in many devices, and the Samsung Exynos 4 Quad Core, used in the Galaxy S3 in Europe.

For its part, Apple has its A5X chip, but we must clarify that it's a quad-core graphics engine, not a quad-core processor per se. And speaking of the A5X, a preliminary review of the Qualcomm tablet comparing it to the A5X, Exynos, and Tegra 3 says it's really fast, though not faster than the competition on every benchmark.

The $1,299 tablet includes a 10.1-inch WXGA display (1366 x 720), 2 GB of system memory, and 13 MP rear camera. Branded products from device vendors are expected at the end of this year or early next year.

In other mobile news

A new scientific project headed by New York University has received $2 million in funding to perform research in the 80 GHz radio spectrum, in an effort to learn more about 5G technology and how it can be used in wireless communications.

Overall, about $800,000 is coming from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the rest from commercial companies and from New York State as represented by Empire State Development.

The funding will be spent trying to get 80 GHz signals working over useful ranges and around obstacles with the intent of making the spectrum usable for 5G wireless in the mobile segment.

Those frequencies are well above what one would normally consider valuable spectrum. The really good frequencies are below 1 GHz which is why they're all full of radio and TV transmissions.

Working further up the dial needs new skills, and new research, with very few people understanding just how signals propagate in the Extremely High Frequency bands.

Back when radio started, the first few frequencies used were around 2 MHz, so anything below 0.3MHz is known as Low Frequency, while anything above 3 MHz is called High Frequency. When FM radio came along it needed even more space, so it sits around 88 MHz in the Very High Frequency band which stretches to 300 MHz.

TV, a relatively-late arrival, got slotted in around 600 MHz in the Ultra High Frequency which runs up to 3 GHz and thus covers existing mobile phones and WiFi connections.

Above that, we have Super High Frequency, which runs up to 30 GHz to cover the second wi-fi band (802.11a, at 5 GHz) and more-esoteric LTE deployments, and finally we have Extremely High Frequency where Wi-Gig is already having a hard time getting itself deployed and where the new team thinks that 5G could accomodate.

Beyond EHF is Tremendously High Frequency. That runs all the way up to infrared light which has already demonstrated its networking utility.

However, WiGig is still having functional issues at 60 GHz, not least because of the lack of engineers with experimental experience. Some radar engineers do know the band, but not well and there aren't enough of them to go around.

Given the inability of EHF signals to penetrate walls or travel more than a few meters, you might imagine the applications would be limited, but walls can often be walked around by picking up reflected signals, and the range can be increased by clever encoding and better antennas, which are the areas that NYU will be focusing on.

Radio frequencies might be limited, but the technology still moves at an astounding speed. A modern wi-fi access point isn't just processing radio signals, it could well be tracking the distance and direction of every connected mobile device, creating narrow beams of radio directed at your pocket as you walk across the office.

The 2.4 GHz band was given away as it was considered worthless, only to become the most-heavily used wireless spectrum on the planet.

The far end of that is still very empty and it will be interesting to see what the New York researchers can fill it with.

In other mobile news

Apple's new iPhone 5 will come equipped with a smaller dock connector port, enabling the use of a 19-pin connector.

Although Apple's current mobile devices, including the iPhone and the iPad, come with a 30-pin port, the new iPhone 5 will feature a 19-pin connector.

The change will help Apple make room on the bottom of the device for a headphone jack instead. The jack currently sits at the top of the iPhone, while displacing it to the bottom would make a lot of sense.

This is just the latest in a string of rumors surrounding Apple's plans for that port in fact. Over the last few months, an increasing number of reports have crept up, suggesting that Apple will be dropping the 30-pin connector for a smaller, 19-pinner.

For example, in May, it was reported in the blogosphere that the new connector is closer to a pill shape. In addition, it was said that the connector would be available on all future mobile devices that Apple launches, not just this year but in 2013 as well.

Apple still hasn't commented on its plans for a new dock connector, but we contacted the company for comment and will update this story when we have more information.

If Apple does decide to launch a new dock connector on the iPhone 5, its latest mobile handset would, out of the box, seemingly be incompatible with the many accessories that already connect to its devices with a 30-pin connector.

Now whether Apple will or won't offer an adapter to ensure legacy products will still work with its devices still remains to be seen. We will keep you posted on this and other stories in the mobile segment.

In other mobile news

Fresh new statistics published today by Juniper Research reveal that the global NFC retail payments market will exceed $180 billion by 2017, more than a seven-fold increase over this year. And for 2013, growth will accelerate faster than for this year.

The leading regions of North America, Western Europe and Far East & China will contribute about 90.2 percent of this market value, as smartphones with NFC payment technology become standard throughout the wireless industry.

Juniper also found that last year was a record year for NFC payments. Major technology infrastructure standards were finalized, many mobile network operators committed to the market and NFC payment pilots from both mobile operators and financial institutions transitioned to commercial service.

NFC-enabled smartphone models were announced by almost all mobile handset makers and Google ignited the market by launching its Google Wallet in the United States.

But the report cautions market observers that the market acceleration of 2011 revealed some parts of the ecosystem unprepared for the future. In particular, retailers are less convinced of the benefits of NFC payments over existing card technologies and are unwilling to invest in contactless infrastructure so soon after the transition to Chip & Pin.

Education and win-win propositions from other ecosystem players are also necessary to make retailers as committed to this opportunity as themselves.

According to report co-author Dr Windsor Holden "This is a critical time for the NFC retail payments market. Despite the significant progress being made today, the full potential of the market can only be fulfilled if all ecosystem players are equally committed and mobile wallet technology remains in place."

"Our report analyzes the various consortia models being formed today and which types are expected to endure,” added Holden.

Other findings from the report include:

  • About 26.8 percent of mobile users in the U.S. and Western Europe will pay in-store using NFC by 2017
  • Mobile network operators can offset declining ARPU as they commit to NFC-based payment projects
  • The NFC mobile payments with no contact required whitepaper is available to download from the Juniper website together with further details of the study ‘NFC Mobile Payments & Retail Marketing: Business Models & Forecasts 2012-2017’.

    Juniper Research provides research and analytical services to the global hi-tech communications sector, providing consultancy, analyst reports and industry commentary.

    In other mobile news

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    Qantas Airlines says it will provide an iPad to every passenger on its fleet of Boeing 767s, in an effort to beam free in-flight entertainment using what it calls its Q-Streaming technology.

    Qantas CEO Lyell Strambi says "Following the successful trial of our Q-Streaming service this year, we will partner with Panasonic and utilize their eXW solution to provide over 200 hours of on-demand in-flight entertainment content via Apple's iPad to every passenger in Business and even in Economy travelling on our Boeing 767 fleet."

    The project has been in the making since last year.

    Panasonic's new eXW technology, to which Strambi referred to as the company's Avionics Division's in-flight entertainment and communication (IFEC) system, was introduced last September. And Panasonic will soon offer its technology to other airlines as well.

    One eXW Wi-Fi system can offer up to forty full-length films and one-hundred short subjects, enough music to fill 100 audio CDs, digital newspapers and magazines, and cached web content, Panasonic said.

    Strambi was apparently pleased with the results of the testing of eXW. "Our passengers were the first in the world to experience the new Wi-Fi entertainment technology, and we've received great feedback from our customers during the trial this year," said Strambi.

    This is the latest straw in an ongoing war between Qantas and Virgin Australia, according to observers in the airline industry. The two companies have been battling agressively for new customers, and this can only be seen as an escalation of the war between them.

    The QStreaming tech was tested in a trial run beginning in September 2011. To be sure, Qantas seems to have outclassed its competition with its new service. Virgin Australia is also testing its own tablet-based in-flight entertainment system, but it merely preloads Samsung Galaxy tablets with some content, and it plans to provide them free to business class passengers only, and to charge economy class flyers for the privilege, something that Qantas wants to avoid at all costs.

    The first iPad-equipped Qantas Boeing 767 will pick up passengers in the fourth quarter of 2012, and will fly predominantly east coast routes, plus all the way across Oz from the east coast to Perth, about 2,000 miles to the west of Sydney.

    Such a nonstop flight typically takes about five hours-- more than enough time to sit, relax and enjoy an iPad and the content that Qantas new provides its passengers.

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    Source: Qualcomm.

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