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Qualcomm Technology Summit and 4K Video on Mobile Devices

by Chris Taylor | Oct 21, 2014

At the company's Technology Summit in NYC last week, Qualcomm made a strong case for 4K Ultra HD video enabled by their chips and IP.  The company argued that 4K Ultra HD video is here and will grow in popularity, putting big demands on wireless networks.  Along with the growth of UltraHD video, LTE unicast, and LTE broadcast to support it, LTE and Wi-Fi will converge.  All of this will mean a redesign of the cellular radio, a redesign already underway at Qualcomm.

Raj Talluri, Sr. VP, Qualcomm Technologies gave an impressive presentation summarizing mobile trends and Qualcomm's leadership in relevant technologies.  I could quibble with some of the projections from our competitors, but some of the impressive statistics from Strategy Analytics and other firms quoted by Qualcomm included:

  • 2.5 million applications are now available for mobile devices across Android, iOS, Microsoft, Blackberry and other operating systems for mobile devices;
  • By 2015, mobile applications will probably outnumber software titles for PCs by at least four to one;
  • In 2017, the typical user will have more than 100 applications streaming data to his or her mobile device;
  • This year, wireless broadband will overtake wired; In 2017, 10 trillion gigabytes of data will go through wireless networks;
  • E-mail, internet surfing and social networking are the most popular activities on mobile devices among LTE subscribers now, followed by watching video content;
  • Video will rapidly overtake other applications in terms of demand on wireless networks. True 4K video puts huge demands on the network, requiring about 8.8 million pixels per frame at 4096 x 2160 pixels, the digital cinema standard at 1.9:1 aspect ratio.  Today's new consumer UHDTVs and phones with 1.78:1 aspect ratios have 3840 x 2160 resolution and 8.3 megapixels per frame, almost equal to digital cinema 4K.  Note that the Consumer Electronics Association recently developed a logo for consumer TV equipment certified at 3840 x 2160 resolution that reads "4K Ultra HD," so this is the nomenclature used in this blog.
  • W-CDMA started rolling out in 2001, and reached 500 million subscribers in 2010, nine years later.  LTE is on trajectory to reach 500 million subscribers in just six years.

Qualcomm’s coverage and leadership in almost all conceivable connectivity options for mobile devices to support the growth of data really stood out.  These options include chipsets for LTE Cat. 6 with DL CA, MM-PAs, antenna tuners and ET (RF360), LTE-U (proposed, in development), LTE unicast and LTE multicast (based on eMBMS), LTE Direct (standardization underway), LTE-Voice (VoLTE), LTE-M(TC), long-range 802.11ah, and 802.11ad / 60 GHz.  A couple of observations:

  • A guest speaker from Verizon explained how Verizon's Multicast (using LTE eMBMS) manages demand in limited spectrum during sports and entertainment events at large venues. Unicast crashes if too many subscribers at a football game for example try to watch instant replays in separate streams.  Wi-Fi is not up to the job either.  By allocating some network capacity to separate streams and some to a single broadcast stream, the network can handle thousands of users wanting to watch the same thing, but not at exactly the same time.  Presumably this works best on Qualcomm-equipped LTE smartphones today;
  • LTE-Voice was first available in S. Korea and in Japan on NTT DoCoMo in 2012.  Here in the US, T-Mobile, AT&T Mobility and Verizon recently launched LTE-Voice, but only on phones certified and firmware-equipped to use it such as the new Sony Xperia Z3 and Apple iPhone 6.  More networks and LTE-Voice enabled phones are on the way.

A guest speaker argued a bit unconvincingly in my opinion that lack of content availability and high prices for 4K Ultra HD TVs are no longer issues.  I would argue that price and lack of content are STILL issues:
1.      Today you have to shell out $6,000 to $10,000, for a 75-inch to 85-inch UHDTV, still too much for most consumers.  Anything smaller than 75 inches diagonal and you have to sit closer than five feet to see the benefit over 1080p!  I have tried this myself, and I think that sitting six to eight feet away, about right for a smaller living room, requires an 85-inch diagonal UHDTV for the resolution sweet spot.  I doubt many consumers can give up this much wall space, let alone the money at today’s prices.
2.      Samsung offers 50 4K Ultra HD titles on a big hard drive.  Amazon and Netflix offer some titles for download.  However, cable TV providers and broadcasters still have no way to deliver UHDTV content.  I’m sure this will change soon with the coming new standards, but the investment in 4K infrastructure for broadcasters and providers will inhibit rapid adoption, and the changeover will take years.  From what I have seen, many of the providers are still getting up to speed with 1080i/p.

The CEA has projected sales of 0.8 million 4k Ultra HD TVs in 2014, less than one percent of the market.  As price deltas from 1080p to 4K Ultra HD TVs drop and consumers start to prefer 4K Ultra HD for larger screen sizes, penetration will increase.  However, Strategy Analytics believes that it will take several years for 4K Ultra HD to reach significant volumes in the mainstream below the highest-tier TVs. 

Later in the day Qualcomm demonstrated 4K Ultra HD video downloads using LTE Cat. 6 with 3x DL CA, LTE Cat. 4, single-carrier TD-LTE, and LTE-Broadcast.  At each station, a Qualcomm-equipped phone showed smooth video, while the competitor-equipped phone suffered from frame freezes.  The identities of the competitor-equipped phones were masked, but these were apparently equipped with the Intel XMM7160, MediaTek and Marvell LTE chipsets.   

The WiGig demo stood out.  The demo used a small mobile device equipped with WiGig to stream 4K Ultra HD video across a table to a TV display.  The streaming video transmission degraded imperceptibly with distance and obstructions such as a user's arms until dropping out completely when completely obstructed, a big improvement over previous 60 GHz streaming demos that I have seen.  Qualcomm's Jorge Myszne explained that using light video compression with much more RF bandwidth than actually needed, in tandem with legacy 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz Wi-Fi, provides a much more robust streaming link than some of the earlier 60 GHz systems.  Whatever Qualcomm has done, it would appear to be ready for the consumer.  

As part of the evening panel discussion and presentations surrounding the benefits of 4K Ultra HD TV, Qualcomm announced a $25,000 prize for the most compelling user-generated short video using a Snapdragon-equipped phone.  Mobile devices capable of shooting UltraHD videos include Snapdragon 801-equipped phones and new and upcoming Snapdragon 805 and 810 phones.  We have identified 69 4K Ultra HD-video capable smartphones available today, 66 of which use Qualcomm.  Here are some of the better-known 4K Ultra HD-capable models:

  • Apple iPhone 6, 6 Plus
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 (LTE and LTE-A versions)
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 Active
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3
  • Samsung Galaxy Alpha
  • Samsung Galaxy Note Edge
  • LG G3
  • LG G Pro 2
  • Google Nexus 6
  • HTC One M8
  • Sony Xperia Z2
  • Sony Xperia Z3, Z3 Compact.
  • Oppo OnePlus One
  • Oppo Find 7 and Find 7A
  • Moto X (2014)
  • Meizu MX4 (MediaTek)
  • Asus PadFone X
  • Acer Liquid S2
  • Xiaomi Mi 4
  • ZTE Nubia Z7 and Nubia Z7 Max
  • ZTE Nubia Z5S
  • Lenovo Vibe Z2 Pro

Even though most of these use Snapdragon processors, you should check your particular phone variant before you start shooting video for the contest.  The contest closes in January 2015.

Many companies, particularly Sony and YouTube, are pushing the idea that viewing user-generated 4K Ultra HD content will drive UHDTV sales, but we view this assessment with some skepticism given the still-common use of traditional content delivery methods for TV.  In addition, consumers really prefer professional grade content on the big screen.  Will home-made cat videos on YouTube really drive higher resolution TV?

Maybe mobile devices alone will not stimulate 4K Ultra HD TV sales, but I applaud Qualcomm for promoting higher resolution video.  In the end, what matters to Qualcomm is more mobile devices that use their chips and IP, and Qualcomm today has a market lead in supporting 4K Ultra HD video in mobile devices, so more higher-res video can only benefit them.

Eric Smith, Strategy Analytics Connected Home Devices, contributed to this post.

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