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neXt Curve Insights – July 2023

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Welcome to the July 2023 edition of neXt Curve Insights. This monthly newsletter is a compilation of articles, media, and news that have been curated by the research team at neXt Curve with contributions from partner analysts as well as business and technology leaders.

The goal of neXt Curve Insights is to provide our readers with a regular cadence of coverage of the industry and tech trends and events that matter with the intent of fostering constructive discussion and debate on the future of technology, innovation, and the continuous reinvention of enterprise, industry, society, and our lives. 

I hope that you find this edition informative and inspiring.

Leonard Lee, Executive Analyst of neXt Curve

Top Posts

Check out the top social media posts on LinkedIn by neXt Curve analysts, associates, and partners. Follow neXt Curve and Leonard Lee on LinkedIn and be part of the conversation. Click on the image to view the post.

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Qualcomm HQ here in San Diego to have a private tour of the first model in the Sony Honda Mobility brand of Software Defined passenger EV called Afeela.

Seems like Amazon continues to be a victim of its own hype. Firstly, I’m always puzzled by its characterization as a “Big Tech” company. By revenue it is simply a retailer with an outsized proclivity toward using eCommerce channels for its business. Sure, it has this amazing profit and now growth engine called Amazon Web Services (AWS). Monopoly?

A friend of mine pinged me with this and told me that I called it. Too early to tell, but I told him we shouldn’t confuse engagement numbers based on curiosity with numbers based on proven and sustained utility and value. One is essentially worthless and the other, not. (140K views)

You know what I think about uplink. This is a great article that covers Samsung Networks collaboration with MediaTek in taking #5G uplink to the next level using a three antenna array achieving 363 Mbps up on a MediaTek’s M80-based CPE.

No doubt, F1 racing is data and analytics intensive. Lenovo is the compute provider for F1. It would be great to see how Lenovo brings the innovations and leading workstations and server computing that I saw at DreamWorks Animation earlier this year. Amazing sport, amazing tech!

I have been harping on this for a few months – #sustainableai. We have barely started to talk about the sustainability implications of AI. It’s good to see Lenovo pushing this important agenda to the front of the #AI conversation.

It’s an IBM reunion here at SEMI’s #semiconwest2023 with Sanjay Tripathi, Quentin Samelson, Ed Struzik, and Stephen Pierce. We all worked together back in the day under the leadership of Bruce Anderson.

This is very no bueno. Thoughts anyone? Does the argument that cloud is more secure than on premises and private (not virtual private) hold? Rob Tiffany⚡️Bob Carver, CISM, CISSP, MS Lawrence Pingree Chris Hughes 💭🔐John Kindervag Bill Pugh⚡️

Michael Dell talks about confidential, private, and secure LLMs delivering GenAI value for enterprises, now this to further neXt Curve‘s long running thesis on the autonomous edge. Qualcommcalls it CIE (Connected Intelligent Edge) and Hybrid AI.

A couple of weeks ago, I got an invitation to visit the Qualcomm HQ here in San Diego to hang out with Rodrigo Amaral to get a demo of ControlNet (a 1.5 billion parameter LVM or Language Vision Model) running on a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor.

A little over a week ago, I had a chance to sit down with John Smee, SVP of Engineering and Wireless Research at Qualcomm to talk about something that I had posted a few weeks ago – a 5G reset. A few years of hype has led to disappointment that now obscures the transformative potential of 5G technologies that continue to evolve into 5G Advanced and maturing 5G network deployments around the world. It seems like a good time for a #5G reset.

Samsung Galaxy Unpacked Fold being held in Seoul for the first time. They are leaning hard on Korean design, culture, and K-Pop suggesting a pioneering spirit in mobile. A-list K-Pop stars and Korean celebrities. I guess Seoul made a lot of sense for this event. To be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of flips and folds. The early versions were,… early versions. There have been a lot of improvements over the last couple of generations, especially with the flips.

Holy crap! I’m at the legendary Village Studios in Los Angeles!!! Dr. Dre, Fleetwood Mac, Snoop Dog, Elton John, Metallica, Metallica, and Metallica recorded here! As most of you know, I’m a musician, I produce and engineer my own stuff and perform live. Qualcomm has done me the biggest privilege inviting me to this iconic studio to check out #snapdragonsound.

I got my 2023 Apple MacBook Air 15″ earlier this week to replace my 2016 MacBook Pro 15″ which has been my portable computing workhorse for seven years. Check out my review of my first week with my new Mac.

Top Headlines

These are the hot headlines in the tech and industry media that neXt Curve has curated for your consideration and attention. Executive analyst, Leonard Lee, provides a brief analysis of each story. Contact, Leonard at leonard.lee@next-curve.com for a briefing on the details of his take (clients only).  

Headliner

Summary

Analysis

“Companies caught out by China’s decision to restrict exports of two metals widely used in semiconductors and electric vehicles were racing to secure supplies on Tuesday as some industry suppliers worried that curbs on rare earth exports could follow.

Monday’s abrupt announcement of controls from Aug. 1 on exports of some gallium and germanium products has ramped up a trade war with the United States and could potentially cause more disruption to global supply chains.

Analysts saw the move, which the Chinese commerce ministry said was to protect national security, as a response to escalating efforts by Washington to curb China’s technological advances.”

This was a long-expected move if the U.S. continued to escalate its restrictions on tech trade with China. It was a logical next step after the Micron shot across the bow

The challenge for semiconductor industry observers and the Chinese and U.S. policymakers is the divergent optics that continue to drive a dynamic of mutually assured detriment in U.S.-China trade and diplomatic relations.

While the U.S. is well within its right to exercise policies that preserve its sense of national security, it is difficult to argue U.S policymakers have the “optimal” bearings to navigate a fluid and increasingly acerbic tech trade landscape littered with unintended consequences

“China’s Huawei Technologies is plotting a return to the 5G smartphone industry by the end of this year, according to research firms, signaling a comeback after a U.S. ban on equipment sales decimated its consumer electronics business.

Huawei should be able to procure 5G chips domestically using its own advances in semiconductor design tools along with chipmaking from Semiconductor Manufacturing International Co (SMIC), three third-party technology research firms covering China’s smartphone sector told Reuters.

A return to the 5G phone market would mark a victory for the company that for almost three years said it was in “survival” mode. Huawei’s consumer business revenue peaked at 483 billion yuan ($67 billion) in 2020, before plummeting by almost 50% a year later.

The U.S. and European governments have labelled Huawei a security risk, a charge the company denies. Since then, Huawei has only sold limited batches of 5G models using stockpiled chips.

Huawei’s consumer business revenue peaked at 483 billion yuan ($67 billion) in 2020, before plummeting by almost 50% a year later.”

This would be bad news for Qualcomm. The company would be poised to lose 4G modem sales to Huawei and be bypassed for future 5G modem sales and licensing revenue due to U.S. restrictions.

Qualcomm currently supplies 5G modems and components to Chinese smartphone OEMs Oppo, Vivo, as well as former Huawei brand, Honor.

It is highly doubtful that Huawei will be able to realize competitively performant 5G chips through SMIC. Yield issues with SMIC’s faux 7nm process will make chips for Huawei’s 5G smartphones comparatively expensive.

This may not matter as the Chinese mobile networks sport Huawei kits that could be optimized to offset any shortfalls in UE capability. These optimizations can be deployed in markets outside of China where Huawei continues to sell.

As we cited in our June edition’s Chart of the Month, Huawei continues to hold a strong presence in consumer electronics, including smartphones with leading market share (fastest growing in Q2 2023 at 58% YoY) without 5G modems.

“A major chip industry trade group took the extraordinary step Monday to urge the Biden administration to refrain from further restrictions on trade with China until the industry can evaluate the impact of current and proposed restrictions.

The statement issued by Semiconductor Industry Association describes the importance of trade with China and the possibility that some administration restrictions could hurt the progress seen with the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act last year.  SIA represents nearly all large US chipmakers and many others globally.

The statement from SIA reads in part: “Allowing the industry to have continued access to the China market, the world’s largest commercial market for commodity semiconductors, is important to avoid undermining the positive impact of this [CHIPS and Science Act] effort. Repeated steps, however, to impose overly broad, ambiguous, and at times unilateral restrictions risk diminishing the U.S. semiconductor industry’s competitiveness, disrupting supply chains, causing significant market uncertainty, and prompting continued escalatory retaliation by China.

China’s move to restrict exports of rare earth materials, namely Germanium and Gallium, has put the foundation of U.S. semiconductor supply chains at risk as well as those of U.S. chip industry partners and OEMs who supply electronics and power solutions to end markets such as medical devices, automotive, and aerospace defense.

Furthermore, the widely unknown CHIP 4 initiative is indicative of the reticence of some U.S. allies to support overly restrictive trade policies against China.

More concerning are the implications on the market leadership of U.S. semiconductor firms who are core to U.S. technological leadership in AI, 5G, and other strategic technology domains. 

The risk is that the politically popular anti-China policy could inadvertently open the doors for China to lead while hobbling the collective market leadership of leading U.S. chip firms that depend heavily on the China market.

These are legitimate concerns for SIA’s U.S. semiconductor industry members.

“The Biden-Harris Administration today announced a cybersecurity certification and labeling program to help Americans more easily choose smart devices that are safer and less vulnerable to cyberattacks. The new “U.S. Cyber Trust Mark program would raise the bar for cybersecurity across common devices, including smart refrigerators, smart microwaves, smart televisions, smart climate control systems, smart fitness trackers, and more for cracking down on hidden junk fees, to strengthening cyber protections and protecting the privacy of people in their own homes. 

Several major electronics, appliance, and consumer product manufacturers, retailers, and trade associations have made voluntary commitments to increase cybersecurity for the products they sell. 

The goal of the program is to provide tools for consumers to make informed decisions about the relative security of products they choose to bring into their homes.”

The U.S. governments ongoing attempts to ban China-based TikTok has brought to public light concerns about privacy protection of U.S. citizens and the potential for broader national security risks posed by social platform not exclusively of Chinese origin.

The U.S. Cyber Trust Mark program seems to carry a similar privacy and national security policy agenda to the increasingly smart and connected devices that U.S. consumers buy and use on a daily basis.

The policy and program will naturally butt against the reality that almost all if not all consumer electronics sold globally have a path through China. NIST’s will focus on what it deems as high-risk devices such as routers that are considered important gateways to U.S. households.

The U.S. Department of State’s intent to promote the program and labeling among allies is reminiscent of the Clean Network program for mobile networks that has been of debatable success. 

Pressured by Biden, A.I. Companies Agree to Guardrails on New Tools

by Michael D. Shear, Cecilia Kang and David E. Sanger of The New York Times

July 21, 2023

Seven leading A.I. companies in the United States have agreed to voluntary safeguards on the technology’s development, the White House announced on Friday, pledging to manage the risks of the new tools even as they compete over the potential of artificial intelligence.

The seven companies — Amazon, Anthropic, Google, Inflection, Meta, Microsoft and OpenAI — formally made their commitment to new standards for safety, security and trust at a meeting with President Biden at the White House on Friday afternoon.

The announcement comes as the companies are racing to outdo each other with versions of A.I. that offer powerful new ways to create text, photos, music and video without human input. But the technological leaps have prompted fears about the spread of disinformation and dire warnings of a “risk of extinction” as artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated and humanlike.

Interestingly, Nvidia, Apple, and AMD were not present among the seven companies in attendance at this industry summit with the White House. We would argue that the AI safety, security and trust agendas go down to the semiconductor level with implications on the current U.S.-China chip Cold War.

The key question is if there is substance behind what can be best described as a moment of understanding (MoU).

AI is confusing enough for the tech community. It is difficult to imagine that the Biden Administration, lawmakers and regulators have a grip on what would constitute effective and meaningful guardrails.

Given the commercial interests of the parties involved, it’s more difficult to imagined the seven “AI companies” self-regulating in the public interest given the hypothetical “trillions” at stake.

America’s 5G spending slowdown proves bigger than expected

by Mike Dano of Light Reading

July 24, 2023

“Although rumblings of a 5G cooldown stretch back to the end of 2022, the extent of US operators’ pullback is broader than some top executives had expected.

AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Dish Network broadly spent 50% less on their 5G networks than Brown had expected. As a result, Crown Castle cut $90 million in expected services revenues from its full year 2023 financial forecast. Crown Castle offers services including new cell site development and equipment installation.

To be clear, some have been warning for months that top 5G network operators in North America – AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Dish – would tighten their purse strings as they finish their initial midband 5G buildouts.

But recent reports from the likes of Nokia, Ericsson and Crown Castle hint that US operators are slowing spending even more than expected.

As for US operators, they continue to work to shore up their revenues by gaining new customers and squeezing more revenues from existing customers.”

The U.S. has been a key market for Nokia and Ericsson. The accelerating malaise has prompted both companies to pivot to the Indian market for growth for their network businesses to offset spending declines across North America.

North American malaise effectively closes the window of opportunity on Open RAN players to make inroads into the big three U.S. operators. DISH, is tempering further investment in network build out as they struggle with continued churn in their wireless business.

There may be some hope if the FCC’s Rip and Replace program had momentum. Here, wins have largely gone to Nokia and Ericsson. These incumbents and Samsung will likely benefit if the FCC revitalizes the program. 

U.S. operators are increasingly shifting their focus toward monetization through service expansion, most notably FWA. Vendors that focus on “digital transformation” such as Amdocs continue to grow in the U.S. and broader North American market.

“‘T-Mobile is blazing the trail for wireless customers around the globe, delivering new capabilities that unleash the true potential of 5G,’ said Ulf Ewaldsson, President of Technology at T-Mobile. ‘With the only nationwide 5G standalone network in the country, T-Mobile is the ONLY provider bringing game-changing technologies like four-carrier aggregation to customers across the country.’

5G carrier aggregation allows T-Mobile to combine multiple 5G channels (or carriers) to deliver greater speed and performance. The Un-carrier is now merging four 5G channels of sub-6 GHz spectrum – two channels of 2.5 GHz Ultra Capacity 5G, one channel of 1900 MHz and one channel of 600 MHz spectrum. 

That’s like taking four separate highways and turning them into a massive superhighway where traffic can zoom faster than before. Customers with the Samsung Galaxy S23 will be the first to experience four-carrier aggregation with more devices to follow.”

T-Mobile’s realization of four-carrier aggregation is a testament to the potential QOE (Quality of Experience) enhancements and flexible asset utilization that a 5G standalone network can deliver to and operator and its subscribers with devices with the latest modem RF systems.

At the moment, this feature can only be enjoyed by T-Mobile customers using the new Samsung Galaxy S23 that comes loaded with Qualcomm’s X70 modem RF system that is capable of what Qualcomm calls comprehensive 4x CA (FDD and TDD) across sub-6 and mmWave bands.

T-Mobile continues to demonstrate strong technical leadership with its network. The carrier claims that it will deliver 3.3 Gbps “across the country” but this is not a promise kept for all if not most subscribers. 

T-Mobile will need to continue to invest in, expand and mature its network for 4x CA to matter.

“Intel announced a strategic collaboration agreement with Ericsson to utilize Intel’s 18A process and manufacturing technology for Ericsson’s future next-generation optimized 5G infrastructure.

As part of the agreement, Intel will manufacture custom 5G SoCs (system-on-chip) for Ericsson to create highly differentiated leadership products for future 5G infrastructure. Additionally, the companies will expand their collaboration to optimize 4th Gen Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors with Intel® vRAN Boost for Ericsson’s Cloud RAN (radio access network) solutions to help communications service providers increase network capacity and energy efficiency while gaining greater flexibility and scalability.”

This is pretty big news for Intel’s IFS (Intel Foundry Services) and NEX (Network and Edge) Group. 

Ericsson would become significant addition to IFS fledgling customer base in a couple of years for their leading-edge processes as they ramp up.

Intel will need to execute well with its 5 nodes in 4 years roadmap to make this announcement material.

Ericsson would be hitching its wagon to Intel’s architecture and roadmap for its future 5G RAN – an important tech bet. 

At MWC 2023, Erik Ekudden, Global CTO of Ericsson told me the company was committed to vRAN and Open RAN. Apparently, he wasn’t kidding.

Chart of the Month - G7 versus BRICS

Most folks seem to know what the G7 is. Also known as “The Group of Seven”, the G7 is an intergovernmental political forum comprised of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan representing a league of liberal democratic and representative nations/economies.

Lesser known is BRICS which is an intergovernmental consortium of not-so-liberal democratic emerging economies established in 2006 made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South America representing a combined population of over 3.5 billion people.

The Russian war against Ukraine, increasingly acerbic relations between the U.S. and China have brought BRICS into the mainstream in recent years as a coalition to reckon with. The member countries appear to represent a counterpoint to the G7 supporting each other on contentious topics such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Note that Brazil is the only BRICS member to condemn the Russian war on Ukraine.

Between 2012 and 2022, the aggregate annual GDP of the BRICS member nations increased 68% from 15.47 trillion USD to 25.91 trillion USD with China and India growing their economies by a staggering 111% and 85% respectively. 

The aggregate annual GDP of G7 members grew 24% over the same period with the U.S. outpacing the rest of its G7 peers with a 57% expansion of its economy since 2012.

If the assumption that India will be the next growth engine of the global economy holds, its alliance with an expanding membership of BRICS nations will have significant implications and weight on the balance of geopolitics and trade over the coming decade and beyond.

For more insights and analysis, schedule an analyst briefing with Leonard Lee

reThink Insights

Check out the articles and the research notes that neXt Curve published this month as well as press quotes by the media on topics related to our research agenda. 

Go to our neXt Curve reThink research portal for more content and insights associated with our research agenda.

neXt Curve Monthly Musings

Check out this month’s musings on all things in tech and industry that matter to technology and business leaders by neXt Curve’s Executive Analyst, Leonard Lee.

For real-time insights and commentary from Leonard Lee, follow him on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Monetization of GenAI, The Big "?"

One of the biggest questions in the last earnings calls of the big “GenAI companies” (not naming names) in the recent quarter has been when these generative AI pioneers expect to be able to monetize their massive upfront investments AI infrastructures and model development.

Unanimously, with the obvious exception of Nvidia, the typical answer is a resounding, “We don’t know.” Or “It’s too early to tell.”

Indeed, in our own research with vendors, end users, service providers, and enterprise tech leaders, it is early days. In fact, we would dub this current phase in the GenAI hype as the great POC or proof of concept when organizations are experimenting with various options for implementing and consuming GenAI applications and services. 

There is no doubt that Nvidia and other semiconductor companies including Cerebras recently covered in great detail by Ian Cutress of TechTechPotato in a recent podcast.  will benefit as the GenAI craze drives broader spend on “AI” accelerators. 

Microsoft’s announcement of a $30 extra a month per subscription for the GenAI- infused versions of Windows and Office 365 being offered to select customers on a beta basis is at best a premature indicator of the monetization potential of Microsoft’s growing portfolio of generative AI CoPilots. 

GenAI will have to prove its worth to enterprises who are still in the very early phases of evaluating the deluge of generative AI applications and services being pitched at them from all directions. From what I can see, GenAI has a tall order to fill to justify frenzied bets being placed by “GenAI companies” big and small. 

For more insights and analysis, schedule an analyst briefing with Leonard Lee

Uplink: 5G's Orphan

We are all familiar with the ITU use cases for 5G which were proposed and specified in IMT-2020. eMBB (enhanced Mobile Broadband), mMTC (massive Machine Type Communications), and URLLC (Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications). 

In many ways, the 5G use cases were an early guess at what the 5G network would ultimately become and how it might evolve with many of the hypothesized applications failing to find their mainstream trigger with early deployments of 5G networks.

Much of the emphasis on the quality and performance of 5G networks has been placed on the downlink speeds and capacities. This is not surprising given that enhanced mobile broadband of eMBB, was the first logical use case for operators to pursue as they initiated their 5G modernization journeys largely with non-standalone (NSA) 5G-NR implementations using their lowband spectrum assets to start as operators did in China.

Uplink has been a sort of orphan feature or technical goal though IMT-2020 specifies a minimum maximum uplink data rate of 10 Gbps. It has experienced rather quiet but significant progress we have seen with press releases by Qualcomm, MediaTek, Ericsson, Samsung Networks, and Nokia on lab and field test results that continue to elevate uplink performance achievable with advanced 5G network and radio features complimented with the most advanced modem and RFFE (RF Frontend) technologies for smartphones and a growing range of IoT devices.

Here are some recent announcements on uplink achievements: 

  • Singtel, Ericsson & Qualcomm Achieve Upload Speed of 1.6Gbps on 5G Millimetre Wave (link)
  • Samsung Electronics and MediaTek Achieve Innovative 5G Uplink Breakthrough With Three Transmit Antennas (link)
  • Ericsson and MediaTek top upload speed record with Uplink Carrier Aggregation (link)

As we look forward to 5G Advanced which will see its first 3GPP release frozen in March of 2024 if all things go well, uplink features and technologies will have to play a bigger role in the evolution of the 5G networks out toward 2023. 

Why will uplink be important? It turns out the Internet of Things (IoT) is largely about video surveillance and monitoring increasingly augmented with computer vision AI applications. This means there will be increased requirements in some locations for persistent and reliable access capacity and speeds on the uplink.

The pandemic revealed a need for more symmetrical networks to our homes as more of us engaged in video conferences using Zoom and Teams for work and to keep in touch with loved ones. Quality of experience on multimedia calls are highly dependent on both ends of the call having performant connections. With public 5G networks heavily skewed toward the downlink, we often encounter quality issues with many of the new communications applications we use including what seems like the age old, FaceTime, the app that started it all.

As I have been telling the industry for quite some time, uplink is the frontier of app innovation in the era of 5G Advanced. A mindset shift toward a more balanced view of the network will be needed before operators and developers see the benefits of the 5G uplink promise. 

For more insights and analysis, schedule an analyst briefing with Leonard Lee

Media Highlights

This month, neXt Curve participated in the following internally produced and third-party media events. More media content featured by or featuring neXt Curve is available on our reThink YouTube channel and our media center.

Resetting 5G from Hype to Revolution (with John Smee of Qualcomm)

neXt Curve checks out a demo of ControlNet on Snapdragon 8 Gen 2

neXt Curve to reach out one of Qualcomm’s key 5G thought leaders, John Smee, SVP of Wireless Research to have a discussion about what is needed to get 5G onto the slope of enlightenment and toward a path of transformational value.

neXt Curve was invited to the Qualcomm HQ to check out the company’s demo of ControlNet running on a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra powered by a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor. Rodrigo Amaral gave us a hands-on demonstration. Check it out!

Sony Honda Mobility - Afeela (Powered by Snapdragon)

Technology Revolution: Future of IoT and AI with Bonnie D. Graham

The folks at Qualcomm were kind enough to invite neXt Curve on a private tour of Sony Honda Mobility’s Afeela prototype vehicle powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Digital Chassis suite of technologies. Ogura Takayuki of Sony took Leonard Lee on a thirty-minute tour. Here are the highlights from neXt Curve’s tour of Sony Honda Mobility’s Afeela launch vehicle.

The future of the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) holds tremendous potential for transforming various industries and aspects of our daily lives … increased connectivity, smarter homes and cities, enhanced industrial automation, healthcare innovations, edge computing, AI-enabled consumer experiences, enhanced cybersecurity challenges … and regulatory frameworks.

Over The Edge: New Possibilities at the Edge with Leonard Lee

Dylan Patel of SemiAnalysis roasts Leonard Lee at SEMICON West

Over the Edge is brought to you by Dell Technologies to unlock the potential of your infrastructure with edge solutions. From hardware and software to data and operations, across your entire multi-cloud environment, we’re here to help you simplify your edge so you can generate more value. Hosted by Matt Trifiro and sponsored by Dell Technologies.

Yes, it happened. The long awaited roasting of Leonard Lee of neXt Curve by Dylan Patel, Chief Analyst of SemiAnalysis who claims that Leonard is old, washed-up, slow, and antiquated in his thinking about #generativeai here at #semiconwest2023. It’s pandemonium that you won’t want to miss that ended up being quite insightful in jest!

Event Highlights

This month, neXt Curve participated in the following virtual and in-person industry and technical events. For our full schedule of industry events refer to our event calendar. We also encourage you to follow neXt Curve’s LinkedIn company page.

Qualcomm HQ Visit - Afeela & ControlNet

Date: July 3, 2023

Location: San Diego, CA

Event Summary & Takes

Situated in San Diego, we get many chances to interact with Qualcomm and get invited to special events such as the private tour/demo and analyst briefing of Sony Honda Mobility’s Afeela and Qualcomm’s now-famous demo of ControlNet, a neural network framework that allows users to control diffusion models by adjusting a “seed” value that represent extra conditions that impact the model’s output.

ControlNet was the first demo which took place at Qualcomm’s HQ Building N in San Diego, CA. Rodrigo Amaral of Qualcomm ran the demo for me which involved using ControlNet to output a stylized rendering of a rather plain photo of his office with brown wood trim and red chairs on a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra smartphone. The model surprisingly was able to produce a treatment in less than 11 seconds. This is impressive considering that ControlNet was running a 1.5 billion parameter on a premium smartphone.

Check out Qualcomm’s ControlNet demo and technical overview in this YouTube video.

The second segment of our visit to the Qualcomm HQ was the Sony Honda Mobility Afeela prototype vehicle that was first unveiled at CES 2023 along with Qualcomm. Ogura Takayuki of Sony took us on a 30-minute tour of the prototype vehicle with a focus on the innovative cockpit design and next-level multimedia and spatial cabin experiences for the drive and passengers, 

Please check out the neXt Curve vlog of our tour of Afeela. A link is provided in the related media section below.

The Afeela tour was followed by a 1-on-1 briefing with Mark Granger of Qualcomm who leads the company’s automotive product management. Mark emphasized the important role that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Digital Chassis portfolio will have in completing the vision of Afeela. The cockpit, which is driven by Snapdragon Digital Cockpit is just one of the vehicular systems that Qualcomm will drive.

Here are our key takes from our visit to Qualcomm’s HQ for the Afeela and ControlNet tour and demo.

  • The Sony Honda Mobility prototype vehicle for its coming Afeela brand implements a fun interpretation of what you might consider the Snapdragon Cockpit experience characterized by the trans-dash digital display that integrates instrument cluster with a full suite of infotainment features and functions. Could this be a reference experience design that Qualcomm leverages across the different automotive brands it works with today and in the future? This vision of the cockpit and cabin of the future is bold thing the driver and passenger experiences to the next level. 
  • The level of personalization and brand customizations for OEMs is apparent. The Afeela cockpit and cabinet experience, while borrowing from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon concept car, has a distinctive brand identity and feel down to the integrated PlayStation 5.   
  • Many of the features such as the six-speaker headrest personal audio based on Sony’s 360 Reality Audio are premium. It’s hard to believe that the first Afeela vehicle slated to roll off the production floor in 2025 will be a mid-priced offering ranging at around 50K USD.
  • Qualcomm is big on edge AI and has been a pioneer for years bringing AI features, technologies, and silicon to the smartphone. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon portfolio of processors continue to drive performance leadership across Android smartphone segments. All this being said, it was surprising that Qualcomm engineers were able to run a ControlNet neural network on a Samsung S23 Ultra outfitted with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy processor. It is an impressive technical demonstration of the computing power (and memory bandwidth) of today’s premium smartphones. 
  • GenAI tools and models are works in process without a doubt. While Qualcomm’s ControlNet demo is impressive, it is clear that GenAI tools will have to be lightweight and purpose/function specific for applications to be useful. As I have experienced with many GenAI tools, they simply are not that good.
  • GenAI on device is a different domain of technology that Qualcomm currently leads. It is currently best positioned to continue the advancement of the technology and the discovery of valuable applications for mobile and PC users given their current legacy with smartphones and their collaboration with Microsoft in bringing GenAI capabilities to Arm-based PCs announced at Build 2023 in May of this year.

Related Media & Press Releases

  • LinkedIn: Leonard’s private tour of Sony Honda Mobility’s Afeela prototype vehicle (link)
  • LinkedIn: Leonard’s private demo of ControlNet running on Snapdragon (link

Companies Engaged: Qualcomm, Sony Honda Mobility, Sony, Honda

SEMICON West 2023

Date: July 20 to 23, 2023

Location: San Francisco, CA

Event Summary & Takes

After years of trying to make SEMICON West fit in our industry event agenda, we finally made it to Moscone Center in Downtown San Francisco to have our first go at the largest semiconductor manufacturing industry event in the U.S. This year’s event promised to be an interesting one with the ongoing geopolitical wrangling between the U.S. and China about semiconductors and the hype du jour, Generative AI, which has driven unprecedented excitement in AI computing and the semiconductor manufacturing and technologies that make it happen.

SEMICON West was attended by over 25,000 attendees. The exhibition halls were sold out. We attended all four days of the event pursuing a wide research agenda focusing not the following topics: 

  • Advanced 3D and 2.5D packaging technologies and methods
  • AI compute architectures and technologies – Generative AI
  • Semiconductor supply chain resiliency and risks
  • Interconnect and data center networking technologies
  • Chiplets and emerging chip architectures
  • What’s new in EDA
  • Geopolitics, tech trade and policies
  • Sustainability and energy efficient AI computing

This year’s theme was the path to $1 trillion by 2030 which SEMI and many semiconductor industry analysts believe will be driven by AI and 5G (or smart mobility). The thesis is supported by what is anticipated to be a massive build out of fabs around the world to meet a fast-growing demand for semiconductors of all kinds as “digital transformation” accelerates.

Another key theme was the geopolitics especially the tensions and apparent chip war between the U.S. and China. The news of China restricting the export of rare earth materials essential to the manufacturing a wide range of critical components had barely been digested in the presentation materials. Government concerns about global semiconductor supply chain resiliency were met with growing industry concerns about market access to China and the uncertain trade landscape that puts the business of semiconductor manufacturers at risk.

It’s difficult to say what the outlook for the semiconductor industry would be without the excitement shed from the generative AI hype especially as spending and investment in emerging tech seemed to be on the collapse with the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. We delved quite a bit into the technical bits underpinning generative AI computing. Let’s put it simply, we have been validated. 

Here are our key takes from SEMICON West 2023 event.
  • The path to a $1 Trillion, while probable, will be a difficult journey for the industry even with the recent generative AI tailwind and government-sponsored fab built outs expected in the U.S. and Europe under the CHIPS Act and European Chip Act respectivelyThe big wild cards at the moment are the sober global economic outlook and the contentious geopolitical environment that continues to deteriorate with the War in Ukraine and ever-souring relations between the U.S. and China. Can the $1 trillion mark can be reached without China? Will India be a viable substitute for China by 2030?
  • Digital twins and XR may have a real impact on the semiconductor industry as it becomes more geographically distributed and continues to suffer from regional talent shortages for fab design, engineering, and operations. The industry has a lot of data and may have the “digital and data maturity” to realize transformative value that has been elusive for so many industries.
  • Generative AI hype is driving innovation in AI semiconductor and compute technologies. While much attention has been placed on Nvidia as the backbone of GenAI, there was a tremendous amount of chatter about Cerebras and their wafer-scale AI chips that could potentially Nvidia’s GPU-based data center solution architecture.
  • In the future of AI, analog will trump digital according to Mukesh Khare of IBM. Think about how efficient our brains are. It’s analog, not digital. Trippy stuff on embedded phase change memory or analog in-memory computing. 
  • The most prominent and arguably useful AI applications for smart semiconductor manufacturing seems to be for image matching (not image recognition and classification) for verification and quality control.
  • Industry sustainability was a key topic especially with massive new fabs expected to go online with Samsung, Intel, and TSMC’s expansions in Texas and Arizona. Schneider Electric 
  • Sustainability of computing, especially data center compute, raised debated and concern about thermals associated with emerging 3D packaging and 2.5D packaging techniques as well as the challenges with chiplets – nonuniform heat due to disaggregated architecture.  
  • neXt Curve has been talking about sustainable AI for a while. It seems to be a fast-growing concern that we predict will begin to color the generative AI debate in the next six months.
  • We witnessed many engineers challenging the notion that GenAI will be useful. Many of the presentations on GenAI use in semiconductor manufacturing appeared surprisingly dated exposing cracks in the hype as demos failed to convince and assure industry technologists that LLMs have transformative potential.

Related Media & Press Releases

  • SEMICON West 2023 Event site (link)
  • neXt Curve July Event Agenda (link)
  • LinkedIn: SEMICON West Day 0 coverage (link)
  • LinkedIn: Kicking off Day 1 of SEMICON West 2023 (link)
  • LinkedIn: Day 2 of SEMICON West 2023 (link)
  • LinkedIn: Encounter with Dylan Patel of SemiAnalysis (link)
  • LinkedIn: Day 3 of SEMICON West 2023 (link)
  • LinkedIn: An IBM Alumni Reunion at SEMICON West 2023 (link

Companies Engaged: LAM Research, Applied Materials, Schneider Electric, IBM, Dongwon Parts Co., Ltd., Intel, Cadence Design Systems, Keysight, Lightmatter, Ayar Labs, Open Compute Project Foundation, KLA, Moov, Mitsubishi Electric, ABB, OpenText,  Menta SAS, Samsung Semiconductor, Siemens, Nikon, Disco 

Samsung Galaxy Unpacked Fold 2023

Date: July 26, 2023

Location: Seoul, Korea

Event Summary & Takes

For the first time, Samsung Electronics Galaxy Unpacked was held in Seoul, Korea to unveil the new line of Galaxy Fold and Flip devices. Given that the U.S. is Samsung’s primary markets for its smartphones, the event has taken place in U.S., usually NYC. This year, the team at Samsung decided to lean hard into Korean design, culture, and K-Pop which have gains global exposure and cache in recent years. It worked. 

After a brief intro by TM Roh, President and Head of Samsung’s MX business, the one-hour event showcased the fifth-generation Galaxy Fold and Flip devices, Galaxy Tab S9 tablet, and the Galaxy Watch6 smartwatch with a revamped Classic model with a rotating bezel.

Samsung’s new generation of folding screen technology is called Flex Hinge which effectively eliminates the hinge gap on the Samsung Z Flip5 and Fold5 smartphones. The Galaxy Z Fold5 starts at a lofty $1,799, and the Galaxy Z Flip5 starts at $999.

Samsung introduced its 6th generation Galaxy Watch sporting a new Bio Active Sensor featuring parity setting features for Samsung’s wearable line including menstrual cycle tracking, standing and sitting heart rate monitoring and other “real time” lifestyle tracking features. The new Classic 6 edition reintroduces the rotating bezel for UI control.

Sleep was a big focus of the new Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch. Sleep coaching and tracking are all part of the new sleep management features of the series.

Samsung also introduced the new Galaxy Tab S9 Series powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor for Galaxy. The S9 Ultra comes with a massive 14.6″ display sporting an awkward notch. Having used the S-Pen with the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, I have to profess that it is a solid stylus with a comfortable pencil-like feel unlike the Apple Pencil. I didn’t find it useful on Samsung’s flagship phablet, but it would translate well to a larger tablet experience.

It was good to see Samsung mention some of its seamless cross-device experience and creative/workflow features that we covered in the June edition of the neXt Curve Tech Insights newsletter. The treatment was a bit light for my taste failing to highlight the benefits of using Samsung devices in concert for content creation and work.

Here are our key takes from Samsung Galaxy Unpacked 2023 Fold event.

  • Given the global influence of K-Pop and K-Culture as well as the country’s industrial and technological leadership, Samsung is leaning into Korea and it works. It could result in something that would be welcome, originality.
  • To be honest, we are not the biggest fan of flips and folds. The early versions were far from elegant and refined designs. There have been a lot of improvements over the last couple of generations, especially with the flips as it seems that Samsung and other brands had addressed the hinge gap and are near addressing the ever-annoying crease. Has Samsung reached an inflection point in design? Pretty close in our view.
  • Yes, foldable are expensive because of the cost of pioneering engineering and BOM costs due to what amounts to a two-screen device. The super-premium pricing of these devices will make durability and longevity important factors in the investment equation for consumers. This includes long-term developer support to sustain the premium value of the foldable experience.
  • Fragmentation and volatility are words that best describe what the flip and fold experiences. Generation over generation, the UI design and UX seem to change dramatically presenting a new learning curve for users and developers. It feels like each version of the UI paradigm is a one-off, something that developers won’t like and will stymie developer mindshare.
  • Are we looking at the death of the selfie stick? Maybe for some situations, but not all. It is a key selling point for the Galaxy Z Flip 5. It is undoubtedly a simple but compelling convenience that will come in handy for many users.

Related Media & Press Releases

  • Samsung Galaxy Unpacked Fold 2023 Event site (link)
  • neXt Curve July Event Agenda (link)
  • LinkedIn: Leonard’s takes from Samsung Galaxy Unpacked Fold 2023 (link)

Companies Engaged: Samsung, Qualcomm

Snapdragon Sound at The Village Studios

Date: July 26, 2023

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Event Summary & Takes

Qualcomm was kind enough to invited neXt Curve to the legendary Village Studios in Los Angeles, the birthplace of some of the most iconic albums in recording history. Artists from Dr. Dre, Fleetwood Mac, Snoop Dog, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, and more recorded many of their greatest works. 

As a musician, and producer, Qualcomm has given me the biggest privilege inviting neXt Curve to this iconic studio to check out Snapdragon Sound and the leading edge of true wireless audio experience and high-resolution music content.

Qualcomm had invited a small group of media and analysts to experience an intimate live performance by Grammy-nominee, JP Saxe, who is currently touring with John Mayer on a solo tour.

The private concert was preceded by Dino Bekis, VP and GM of wearables at Qualcomm, who kicked off an artist/ producer panel featuring artist, JP Sakes, producer, Ryan Marrone, and Dan Mackta of Qobuz moderated by Mike Canevaro of Qualcomm Snapdragon Sound.

We also had the opportunity to demo hi-res audio content played through the latest Denon true wireless earbuds powered by Snapdragon Sound A-B’ed against Apple’s AirPod Pro 2 and Apple Music lossless audio.

Here are our key takes from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sound event at the world-famous The Village Studios.

  • Qualcomm continues to expand its Snapdragon Sound ecosystem with a focus on Hi-Res music content and studio-quality wireless audio driving new innovations in areas such as spatial audio, low-power Bluetooth, high-def audio codecs, noise reduction and cancellation, and more. Find out more about Snapdragon Sound (link).
  • Both the Denon + Snapdragon + Motorola + Qobuz and Apple set ups sounded great, but the Snapdragon combo got closer to that studio reference quality that we heard through the studio monitors in the control room at The Village Studios. I felt that the Snapdragon Sound teaming produce more spatial depth than the Apple AirPod Pro 2 and Spatial Audio with cleaner separation between elements in the audio field. The Denon true wireless earbuds seemed to have better dynamic range especially on the bottom end.  
  • The market of Hi-Res Audio is a highly competitive but niche market at the moment with big players such as Amazon, Spotify, and Apple dominating Hi-Res content distribution posing a crowded field vying for the mass market. 
  • Boutique players such as Qobuz may find differentiation with hardware and software partners in the Snapdragon Sound ecosystem driving a leading-edge cycle of audio experience innovation to premium markets with a velocity that the bigger players may find difficult match. 

Related Media & Press Releases

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon Sound site (link)
  • LinkedIn: Leonard’s takes from The Village Studios (link)
  • LinkedIn: Pink Floyd at The Village Studios (link)

Companies Engaged: Qualcomm, Qobuz, Motorola, Lenovo, Denon, The Village Studios

Upcoming Industry & Media Events

This month, neXt Curve participated in the following virtual and in-person industry and technical events. For our full schedule of industry events refer to our event calendar. We also encourage you to follow neXt Curve’s LinkedIn company page.

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