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Qualcomm reveals automotive strategy at CES

Posted: 08 Jan 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Qualcomm  WiFi  processor  in-vehicle infotainment  ADAS 

Qualcomm has graced the floors of CES 2014 with its automotive game plan for moving forward from tablets and smartphones to the car. It will join the brewing in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) platform battle by introducing Snapdragon automotive solutions, and it plans to enter the booming advanced driver assistant systems (ADAS) market, initially by integrating dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technology into its WiFi chip.

In an interview with EE Times, Kanwalinder Singh, SVP of business development for Qualcomm Technologies Inc., noted that Qualcomm will leverage the company's strong presence in the in-car cellular modem market to advance automakers' telematics business.

As cars of the future, increasingly connected with the outside world, are turning into "smartphones on wheels," Qualcomm perceives the opportunity to use its undisputed lead in the global mobile phone business to morph into a formidable newcomer in the automotive chip market.

The company has introduced an "automotive-grade" infotainment chipset, the Snapdragon 602A applications processor, with a quad-core Krait CPU, Adreno 320 GPU, Hexagon DSP, integrated GNSS baseband processing, and additional high-performance audio, video and communication cores.

The Snapdragon 602A processor is "pre-integrated with Qualcomm Gobi 9x15 multimode 3G/4G-LTE and QCA6574 Qualcomm VIVE 2-stream, dual-band 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth LE 4.0-based modules," according to the company. Qualcomm's goal is to provide car OEMs with "unprecedented, integrated connectivity options for connected infotainment systems."

It's important to note that Qualcomm isn't exactly new to the automotive market.

The company has been there for a decade, Singh told EE Times. Initially, Qualcomm provided modem chips to General Motors, when the car OEM began its OnStar telematics services.

Today, Qualcomm dominates the in-car modem market. Singh said, "It's rare to find a car where Qualcomm's modem chip is not used."

Building on its solid foothold in in-car modems, Qualcomm's next target is the IVI system market.

Qualcomm's Singh believes that car OEMs are planning to integrate LTE modems, not just in premium cars but also in mass-market models in order to make their cars "future-proof." The latest LTE modem design-win opportunity gives Qualcomm a perfect opening to pitch the company's newly designed, auto-grade Snapdragon for IVI systems.

Singh believes that LTE is effective in enhancing automakers' telematics services. "There are 60 to 100 ECUs in a car these days," he said, "all of which are running software." By using LTE modems, a carmaker will be able to update all of its software over the air. The connectivity will be useful, also, in "interacting with a car remotely," said Singh, such as comfort-setting inside a vehicle or opening a door.

Asked about the company's game plan, Singh said that Qualcomm's strategy is to leverage a deeper level of integration in its automotive Snapdragon SoC to attack every car's in-vehicle infotainment system, "up to the mid-tier. That's where the sweet spot is."

Texas Instruments, Freescale, and NXP are also strong players in the automotive silicon market.

Singh pointed out, however, that although they are strong in the industrial automotive chip segment, all three chip suppliers have already fled the smartphone modem business. This leaves them vulnerable to new competition from Qualcomm, which can provide highly integrated in-vehicle infotainment SoCs that run on modern OSs and offer LTE modem, GPS, and WiFi integrated on the global platform, Singh asserted.

The company also boasted that its platform is "designed to interoperate with consumer devices from leading smartphone and tablet ecosystems to deliver the right blend of in-car integrated infotainment with brought-in experiences."

During the interview with EE Times, Qualcomm's Singh acknowledged that the company has been working on a variety of air interfaces around the car, including radar, WiFi, and IEEE 802.11p (also known as dedicated short-range communications). The combination of WiFi and 802.11p, he contends, will make a car more alert to objects in its immediate environment.

How Qualcomm plans to move into the overall ADAS segment remains less clear, however.

Singh implies that Qualcomm's in-car infotainment won't remain just for "entertainment apps" but it will eventually evolve into a platform displaying information related to ADAS.

ADAS, however, is a safety-critical system and has stricter rules than infotainment, said IHS analyst Egil Juliussen. "The OS is the key that determines what system can be used for ADAS." In his opinion, only QNX, among all the infotainment OSs, has safety-critical ratings, and QNX runs on ARM. "Hence Qualcomm can get into the ADAS business," said Juliussen. "Currently the ADAS systems are using much simpler OSs (usually, often proprietary) than infotainment OSs, but will need to have a more capable OS in the future."

- Junko Yoshida
  EE Times

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