Microsoft and Google put mobile computing within ARM’s reach

July 28, 2010

SUMMARY:

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has realized that a strong play on the ARM platform is necessary moving forward especially in perspective of the competitive threat of the Google+ARM platform that has manifested strongly in smartphones and tablet devices.

Microsoft and ARM announced a new architecture licensing agreement that underscores the importance of ARM’s architecture on the Windows roadmap and perhaps heralds the game-changing arrival of the era of Windows+ARM based mobile computing and gaming platforms.

ANALYSIS

The convergence between mobile devices and classic desktop/laptop computing devices is resulting in new opportunities in a host of portable consumer devices such as E-readers, Tablets, gaming, media phones, and navigation devices.

While it indulged in the ARM space for smartphones where it failed to get sufficient traction, Microsoft did not see a compelling need to pursue an alternate platform for mobile computing since the WINTEL (Windows + Intel (NASDAQ:INTC)) platform had a stronghold in this sector.

Many prominent portable consumer devices however have now embraced ARM as the platform for such emerging devices. Notable examples include:

ARM’s Cortex A8 and Cortex A9 (with multi-core processing capabilities) platforms at ≥1GHz are cost competitive and more power efficient, and offer a compelling alternative to Intel’s processors for these emerging portable consumer device platforms.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), who has challenged Microsoft with new paradigms and business models, has sided with the ARM platform for its thrust into smartphones with its Android OS. This ARM+Android mobile platform has gained momentum among smartphone OEMs incl. Motorola (NYSE:MOT), Samsung, Sony Ericsson, HTC (TPE:2498), LGE, Dell, Acer, etc. that has translated into significant market share gain within smartphones.

Google is aggressively mounting a similar campaign to address the world of tablets, smartbooks, and netbooks leveraging the ARM hardware platform via its Android OS and the Chrome OS platforms.

Google’s royalty-free OS model combined with the cost and power advantage of high-performance ARM processors makes a potent combination that threatens the WINTEL alliance from extending its dominance into the smartbook/tablet/e-reader space. For example,  notable players from the PC camp including Dell, Acer, Lenovo, Asus, Samsung, LGE etc. have chosen to introduce Android+ARM based tablets.

Most of these emerging consumer computing devices are ‘communication devices’ that have built in modems. As these devices become mass market plays, cost and power reduction will increasingly drive integrated (applications + modem) processors where ARM-based players Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), ST-Ericsson, Marvell, Renesas, etc. are well-positioned relative to X86 players (Intel, AMD (NYSE:AMD), VIA).

Microsoft has thus realized that a strong play on the ARM platform is necessary moving forward.

This announcement underscores the importance of ARM’s architecture on the Windows roadmap and perhaps heralds the game-changing arrival of the era of Windows+ARM based mobile computing and gaming devices. The proactive engagement will enable Microsoft to stay in sync with ARM’s roadmap and optimize their leading-edge Windows smartphone and Windows embedded OS platforms with corresponding leading-edge ARM-based products.

One thing is clear. ARM is the winner as Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, Qualcomm etc. are doing the heavy lifting, and even Apple (with its ARM based A4 chip that is the foundation of its new iPad and iPhone 4) is doing its share.

Note: There’s more valuable insight on smartphones and new wireless frontiers at http://emblazeworld.com/ in the Resources section

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Renesas promises a renaissance in the mobile space

July 25, 2010

 
With its $200M purchase of Nokia’s wireless modem business, Renesas has made a chess move that is clearly challenging market leader Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) in the 3G space, as the 3G handset market rapidly grows from ~30% in 2009 (out of 1.15Bu)  to a projected 55% (out of 1.5Bu) in 2010. The more immediate threat is perhaps to current Nokia suppliers ST-Ericsson, Broadcom (NASDAQ:BRCM), TI, and Infineon.

The deal, expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2010, is for Nokia’s wireless modem technologies for LTE, HSPA+ and GSM standards. As part of the deal, Nokia will transfer around 1,100 R&D employees to Renesas.

This daring move, especially in the face of recent exits by high profile chipset players from the wireless modem business, affirms Renesas’s commitment to being a full wireless systems platform provider.

Renesas Electronics, founded only recently (April-2010) from the merger of Renesas Technology and NEC Electronics (TYO:6723), is expected to become the world’s third largest semiconductor supplier based on combined revenue. Its scale and breadth of embedded products provide the foundation to be a formidable global wireless platform provider.

Here are some implications of the announced deal.


FOR NOKIA
  • Unshackles Nokia and removes internal barriers to sign up with any standard chipset offering
  • Reduces R&D costs and allows Nokia to refocus R&D on core value-added Apps/Services and User Interface/User Experience related activities
  • Strategic alliance that gives access to advanced modem technologies for HSPA+/LTE
  • Increases supplier base for wireless modems

FOR RENESAS
  • Gives immediate access to robust, proven technology for a relatively modest price, that would otherwise have been prohibitively expensive and long-drawn to build from ground up.
  • Provides access to critical IP from Nokia, strengthening its competitive positioning
  • Positions Renesas as one of few strong players to offer a complete mobile broadband platform – Application Processors, Basebands, Integrated SoCs, Power Management, RF Transceivers, and Power Amplifiers.
  • Access to a key customer, and potentially rapid ramp up in volumes globally beyond their traditional Japanese market.
  • Positions Renesas as a key alternate source for Nokia’s high-tier smartphone platform awarded to ST-Ericcson (U8500).
  • Positions Renesas for a significant play in a broad array of wireless embedded device markets in smartphones and beyond (ereaders, gaming, personal navigation, smartbooks, tablets, netbooks, etc.)

FOR OTHER WIRELESS CHIPSET SUPPLIERS
  • It lowers entry barriers to QCOM, BRCM, IFX within Nokia
  • It brings in a strong 3G modem chipset supplier, threatening the dominance and growth of currrent leaders, Qualcomm and ST-Ericsson
  • With its SH-Mobile S-series applications processor, Reneasas increases competitive pressure in the smartphone processor domain, and especially in the integrated applications+baseband SoC space (where it has considerable experience with the SH Mobile G-series) that includes Qualcomm, ST-Ericsson, Marvell, and Broadcom.
  • It ups the ante for standalone Applications processor players to build/acquire modem technology and/or look aggressively at new embedded device markets beyond smartphones.

In summary, Renesas Electronics promises a “renaissance” in the mobile platform space, that is sure to have ripple effects in the wireless semiconductor space.

★★★ There’s more valuable insight on smartphones and new wireless frontiers at http://emblazeworld.com/ in the Resources section


What’s your smart (phone) call?

August 21, 2009

Smartphones are poised to be the fastest growing handset segment in the coming years, rising from 14% of global handset shipments in 2008 (Ref 1) to a projected 32% in 2010 (Ref 2).

Further, smartphones command higher ASPs (average selling price) on the order of US$350 (2008)  signaling higher revenue and profitability potential for handset OEMs. This has heightened the intensity of competition among handset makers.

Historically, handsets have evolved more as ‘fat modems’ where application processing and modem communication were all handled on the same chip. On the other hand, application centric devices such as PCs, gaming devices etc. evolved as standalone devices based on discrete applications processors. Connectivity was added on via discrete connectivity modules.

While data speed does impact user experience, application and related services offer many dimensions to differentiate personalization and user experience, thus leading to higher ARPU over voice centric services.

The two worlds are set to collide to create converged devices with vast possibilities (Refs 3 and 4). It also means non-traditional wireless players whose core competency is more on the applications side will enter the fray. For example, Intel is pushing its application processor, Atom, from Netbooks down into Smartphones (Ref. 3). On the other hand, Qualcomm has just announced it is targeting its integrated application and baseband processor, Snapdragon, at Smartbooks (Ref 4).

CRITICAL QUESTION  – DISCRETE vs. INTEGRATED PROCESSORS?

The handset designer is now confronted with a daunting choice – the use of a discrete applications processor in conjunction with a discrete baseband processor versus an integrated SoC that combines an applications processor with a baseband processor in a single chip.

Product management and handset designers need to evaluate the trade-offs in reaching an appropriate decision. Here are some key trade-offs that influence the decision process:

Discrete vs. Integrated Smartphone Components

Discrete vs. Integrated Smartphone Components

Neither is a silver bullet.

Both have a rightful place and will jostle with each other to dominate this growing segment.

The choice however can have significant implications on product and business competitiveness via such dimensions as system cost, time-to-market, power consumption, flexibility to spin out devices for different communication standards, performance maximization, harmonization of user experience, device form factor (via PCB size & component count) and component supply chain management.

REFERENCES

Ref. 1:  ABI Research – Smartphone and OS markets (Q1-2008)
Ref. 2:  Qualcomm- Evolving Wireless Services (Jan, 2009)
Ref. 3: Sharp unwraps ‘world first’ Intel Atom phone
Ref. 4: Qualcomm Enters Intel Territory

★★★ There’s more valuable insight on smartphones and new wireless frontiers at http://emblazeworld.com/ in the Resources section (see whitepapers)


Embedded Wireless Consumer Devices – Catch the Wave !!

June 25, 2009

Embedded wireless broadband is a tremendous growth opportunity in the consumer electronics (CE) space such as laptops, netbooks, digital cameras, e-book readers, gaming, portable navigation, and other devices.

Embedded wireless provides network operators the opportunity of maximizing revenues and profits via the efficient use of network capacity and spectrum assets, and potential revenue sharing from applications and services. At the same time, device OEMs can innovate to open up vast possibilities in the consumer electronics space in ways never imagined before.

More importantly, network operators now have an opportunity to leverage their core competencies and transform themselves from staid bandwidth providers to solutions/managed service providers who help companies leverage embedded wireless to foster innovation & differentiation in new markets, promote new business models, and enhance revenue opportunities ….much like IBM transformed itself from a pure hardware and software player to a solutions and managed services provider.

But many hurdles have to be overcome before embedded wireless can be mainstream in consumer electronic devices. New players, new devices, and new market dynamics will call for creative business models different from the traditional handset business model.  The challenges may be categorized into seven key areas.

Key Challenges for Embedded Wireless Consumer Devices

Key Challenges for Embedded Wireless Consumer Devices

1. Lower entry barriers for OEMs

  • Easy wireless integration by OEM with minimal BoM (bill-of-materials) impact
  • Easy device provisionability with minimal burden on OEM
  • Easy device upgradeability
  • Easy integration into IT infrastructure and back office systems
  • Expedient Testing & Certification – Simplified and efficient

2. Win-win business model between OEMs and Operators

  • Clear OEM/Operator business strategy
  • Clearly identified target market(s) and ROI
  • Clearly understood impact on current business model
  • What are the strategic competitive advantages?

3. Device design targeted for well-defined user experience

  • Specific device type (Data-only versus Voice+Data) targeted at well defined application/user experience at optimal cost
  • Ergonomic accessibility features
  • Features for enhanced user experience
  • Content, multimedia & graphics, page length, and download times optimized for specific device and user experience
  • Upgradeability – Device renewability, OTA upgradeability, Content portability

4. Application, Content, and VAS developer ecosystem

  • Win-Win business model between Application/VAS providers and OEMs
  • Developer-friendly environment incl. a standardized ‘open’ application development platform, and easy access to SDK, device simulator, and toolkits
  • A centralized App store (either through OEM or through the Operator) to distribute the applications
  • Expedient Application Testing & Certification

5. Efficient device deployment

  • Out-of-the-box flexible provisionability – Pre-provisioned, or simple 1-step on-line post-provisioning
  • An ‘Open network access’ model where any device can operate on any network.
  • Traditional distribution channels must be empowered to distribute easily

6. Simplified business model for consumers

  • Straightforward, simple, and compelling value proposition – centered on enhanced user experience and customer ownership
  • Targeted at lower total COO
  • Customized business model (versus one-size fits all)

7. Compelling end-user experience

  • Enhanced convenience, mobility, productivity, and user experience.
  • Built on familiar usage patterns
  • Easy out-of-box experience (Learn, Pre-loaded applications & content, provisioning/activation)
  • Enhanced operational (normal) usability experience – Overall ease of operation, accessibility, performance & responsiveness, battery life, reliability, peripheral connectivity to other devices
  • Superior aftermarket service – Customer service, Accessories
  • Availability of content, where applicable

Embedded wireless heralds a paradigm shift and a new revolution in consumer electronics.The new embedded wireless device world will provide opportunities for all players in the mobile ecosystem – Operators, Device OEMs, Application/VAS developers, System Integrators, Module providers, and Chipset providers.

2009 is the Year for Embedded Wireless. Beyond consumer devices, embedded wireless is finding its way into new domains – M2M communications, smart grid or smart meter technologies (energy conservation), and wireless medical devices (remote health monitoring).

This is a new frontier and it calls for new ideas and fresh perspectives. Many Operators (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc.),  OEMs, and consumer electronics companies have created separate divisions, un-shackled from their old ways of doing business, to address this emerging segment.

The opportunity is NOW! Are you ready?

★★★ There’s more info & insight on how you can penetrate the embedded wireless space at http://emblazeworld.com/ in the Resources section (see whitepapers)


Wireless Medical Devices – A New Era in Patient Care

June 4, 2009

★★★ You’re invited to listen to a special Chicago Tribune XMRadio interview on “WIRELESS CONNECTIVITY IN HEALTHCARE” on ReachMD (XM160), a channel dedicated for medical professionals.


The wireless revolution has had a tremendous impact on society and people worldwide. The technologies and networks that connect us to people, data, and devices wirelessly are rapidly transforming our everyday lifestyle and productivity in ways never imagined before. This technological trend is quietly and swiftly permeating the medical sector as well, where embedded wireless technologies and M2M (machine-to-machine) communications are bringing about dramatic improvements in the quality of healthcare by allowing patients unprecedented mobility while providing healthcare professionals with easy and real-time access to patient data.

In 2006 the cost for healthcare in the United States rose to $2.1 trillion or 16 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that at least 60% (over 100M) of American adults have at least 1 chronic condition (disease that is long-lasting or recurrent); 77% over 65 have 2 or more chronic conditions; and 90% of all health care spending is towards treating chronic conditions.

The key drivers for wireless medical applications are:

  • Aging Demographic
  • Chronic care is the predominant health care issue
    – Over 77% above 65 have 2 or more chronic conditions
  • Government initiatives to control escalating health costs
    – Over two-thirds of all health care spending is towards treating chronic conditions.
  • Migration of health care model –Institution to proactive home care
  • Disruptive forces come together – The Internet and Wireless
  • New Revenue Opportunities for Operators, Health Care Device Manufacturers, and Health Care Service Providers

Awareness of telehealth and wireless medical applications is increasing with more high profile companies (GE, Google, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Philips, Qualcomm, Siemens, TI, Wal-Mart, etc,) entering the space, along with prominent media coverage and a rise in the number of conferences highlighting the technology.

Some notable recent developments in the end-to-end health monitoring space are:

Wireless Health Device & Remote Patient Monitoring Systems

  • Philips  announced initiatives to offer wireless handheld medical care services including in-home wireless monitoring devices
  • Bosch offers a Telehealth Platform to Support Remote Health Monitoring and  Management Programs
  • Medtronic CareLink® Network with Conexus™ Wireless Telemetry for cardiac disease management
  • GE’s Quiet Care™ remote monitoring system for seniors
  • Intel and GE announced a health care alliance and plans to invest $250M in Medical Devices for telehealth and home health monitoring
  • St. Jude Medical introduced HouseCallPlus™, its remote Patient Monitoring System
  • Biotronik introduced a remote patient monitoring service and the Cardiomessenger

E-Health Records Initiatives

  • Microsoft announced “HealthVault”
  • Google announced its own Google Personal Health Records initiative
  • Walmart and Intel announced a joint eHealth records initiative

Wireless Health Forums and Standards Bodies

  • Continua Health Alliance  is a non-profit, open industry coalition of healthcare and technology companies dedicated to establishing standards and certification processes to ensure interoperability and co-esistence among personal health solutions (in conjunction with HL7, an ANSI standard for healthcare specific data exchange between computer applications).
  • The IEEE has also begun work on 10 telehealth device standards (part of the ISO/IEEE 11073 family) for controlling information exchange among medical devices and cell phones, personal computers, personal health appliances and other compute engines.
  • Wireless-Life Sciences Alliance  is an organization founded to create and promote an ongoing and expanding dialogue around the many opportunities to use embedded wireless technologies to advance the delivery of healthcare.
  • Increasing number of industry conferences related to wireless health technology.

Tangible perception of benefits

A recent national study of home health care agencies by Philips showed compelling and tangible benefits with telehealth:

  • 89% of agencies report that telehealth led to an increase in quality outcomes
  • 76.6% cited reduction in unplanned hospitalizations
  • 77.2% cited reduction in ER visits
  • 76% reported telehealth services led to patients improving self care by proactive disease management

The opportunity is here – Are you ready? By 2020 at least 160 million Americans are projected to have at least one chronic condition. An independent market study predicts  that the market for telehealth and home health monitoring for US and EU combined will grow from $3 billion in 2009 to an estimated $7.7 billion by 2012. Another study pegs the US market to grow from about $800M (2009) to $2.5B (2012) .

Private and public payers are beginning to buy into the advantages of telehealth. Medicare now reimburses for telehealth under particular circumstances and some private payers in certain geographies are also paying providers to use telehealth.

There are however significant challenges in the road ahead, some of which are:

  • Feasible business model, that is aligned with the interests  of all key players including the consumer, the health care providers, and the insurance companies.
  • Risk Management: Innovation risk has many unknowns. The goal is to mitigate and manage the risk.
  • Compelling Use-cases: The application of wireless must offer a compelling benefit. Further, the market is not one-size-fits-all. Telehealth solutions need to be better tailored to their end users
  • Optimized Design – The design must be optimized for performance, cost and power
  • Coexistence and Interoperability – Coexistence between different networked medical device systems, or the approach of enabling plug-and-play interoperability and connectivity, is quintessential for the success of future telehealth systems.
  • FDA Device Regulation & Certification: This is often a long and arduous process requiring significant investment in time and effort. Not all embedded wireless medical devices may need FDA certification. But those that address critical disease management areas such as congestive heart failure will certainly do.
  • Best Practices: A big challenge is the transition of medical device systems deployed on pilot vendor controlled networks to their deployment on hospital controlled enterprise networks. Often assumed to be straight-forward and simple, it is riddled with inefficiencies and hidden costs for vendors and providers alike. The development and proliferation of best practices is essential for successful deployment of a wireless medical device strategy.

Wireless is surely and swiftly bringing about a new revolution in health care. Are you ready for this paradigm shift?

★★★ There’s valuable info and insight on how you can penetrate the wireless medical device market at http://www.emblazeworld.com/ (Check out the special Chicago Tribune XMRadio interview)


Smart Metering – Future of Energy Conservation

May 28, 2009
 
Metering is a fundamental business enabler for the Utility sector companies such as Electricity providers. Electricity is a basic need for virtually every household and business. In the wake of liberalization of energy markets and with growing public awareness and interest in energy conservation, automated meter management or “smart metering” for intelligent metering services is gaining prominence, starting with Europe and now in the US. The vision behind smart metering is that when these meters are collaborating with an in-home display that shows current energy usage, as well as with a communicating thermostat and software that collects and analyzes the information, consumers can see real-time how much consumption drives cost – this awareness will thus will increase the tendency to consume less.
How a “Smart Grid” would let the User and the Utility Company manage power flow

How a “Smart Grid” would let User and Utility Company manage power flow

 Some 50 million old meters in the United States are likely to be replaced by advanced embedded wireless smart meters by 2010 at a cost of about $18 billion, according to a recent analysis by Deutsche Bank. Worldwide, only 6% of electricity, 8% of gas, and 4% of water meters are even automated. In fact, in the electric industry alone, 500 million meters worldwide could be replaced over the next 10 years.

In Europe, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, and Ireland have mandated (or are in the process of mandating) smart metering. Sweden is the pioneer and is on track to implement smart metering for all electricity meters by 3Q-2009. Governments in Austria, Ireland, Spain and the UK are also encouraging use of automated meter monitoring. Telenor, a Swedish mobile operator, expects the number of wireless M2M connections to exceed regular handset deployment by 2008, driven by the deployment of remote ‘smart’ metering of electricity meters connected to Telenor’s GPRS network.

Close at home in the US, the government is mounting aggressive initiatives for energy conservation including “smart grid” initiatives, where electricity is delivered from suppliers to consumers using digital technology to save energy, reduce cost and increase reliability. About $4.3B in outlays to upgrade the nation’s energy grid has been included in the Obama administration’s $787B economic stimulus package. Such a modernized electricity network is being promoted by many governments as a way of addressing energy independence or global warming issues, and may well represent one of the fastest growing sectors in the GreenTech market. Texas law requires rapid smart-meter deployments.

Utilities are thus spending billions of dollars outfitting homes and businesses with the embedded wireless smart meters, which wirelessly send information about electricity use to utility billing departments and could help consumers control energy use. Recently, companies such as Itron and Digi International have introduced wireless M2M solution bundles optimized for energy services providers. This was instrumental in the launch of TXU Energy’s iThermostat™ energy conservation program, and the platform is designed to support traditional demand response systems in addition to AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) and Smart Grid solutions.

Similarly, Smart power grid company Echelon Corp (ELON.O) and T-Mobile USA DTEG.N announced an alliance to use T-Mobile’s wireless network to link “smart meters” to utilities. Echelon has also entered into a similar alliance with Duke Energy in the development of Duke’s “Utility of the Future” smart metering network.

Likewise, trials are underway in several states by many other utilities such as PG&E Corp (a San Francisco Utility), Connecticut Light & Power Co, Southern California Gas, Delmarva Power (Delaware). GE, in partnership with Florida Power & Light and Cisco began rolling out smart meters in Miami.

On the IT infrastructure side, many players are announcing initiatives to support Smart Grid deployment. IBM has announced plans to speed up Smart Grid deployment with $2 Billion in Financing from its lending and leasing arm, IBM Global Financing. The company also donated its Smart Grid Maturity Model to the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute to help foster wider adoption of this model. Maturity models are a road map to help users take a technology or practice to its full use. Google has launched a project to provide homeowners with free software that would communicate with such smart meters and allow for the monitoring and analysis of energy consumption trends. Recently Google announced partnerships with eight utilities in smart meter projects to track energy use online.

Despite the promise of smart metering, only a handful of operators are taking the lead. Historically, U.S. utilities have generally focused their business strategies on large capital investments prioritizing mature technologies with well-proven benefits, such as power plants and high-voltage transmission lines. The utility industry is naturally risk averse – it counts on evolution, not revolution. The cutting-edge smart grid technology concept therefore is perceived as revolutionary by the traditionally risk-averse utility industry. Recent policy developments, such as the Energy Policy Act of 2005, are however forcing a cultural shift at many utilities towards focusing on improving reliability, increasing efficiency, and giving customers more control over their energy consumption. 

★★★ There’s valuable info and insight into how you can penetrate the Smart Metering market at http://www.emblazeworld.com in the Resources Section (see M2M whitepapers)