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Qualcomm launches edge-analytics IoT camera, aims for LTE expansion

Qualcomm is throwing its considerable bulk around in the IoT again, announcing wins for its LTE-M modem, new Snapdragon designs for IoT devices, and a new reference design for machine-vision enabled cameras. For the silicon giant, the strategy remains the same – spend more on R&D than its rivals can turn over, and stay at the front of the pack.

The most interesting new product was the camera design, which has dropped the branding used in the briefing materials, for some reason. The camera system aims to bring network-edge analytics to video processing, as well as acting as a sensor hub for IoT applications.

In terms of spec, the camera is capable of HEVC encoding at 4K resolutions at 30fps, powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 SoC. With LTE, WiFi and Bluetooth, as well as I/O pin-outs on the back for those additional IoT sensors, Qualcomm is providing a platform reference design for developers to take and turn into products – driving Qualcomm sales and orders.

The 8-core CPU on the Snapdragon 625 is going to be providing the processing power needed for running video analytics on the device, with will allow developers to reduce the network bandwidth used in backhauling video for analysis in a central cloud deployment.

An example use of this would be for counting the number of people or cars using a street. Instead of relaying the video and having a human manually count, or teaching an AI-powered, deep-learning capable neural network how to do the same task (but occupying a lot of rack-space in a data center), the learned wisdom from that neural network can essentially be downloaded by the device.

This means that the camera, in this example, would have its own reference library and algorithms that would allow it to spot pedestrians and vehicles – with the end result being that the camera only sends a tiny amount of data back to the cloud, hopefully with the answer to the question (being 43 cars, 72 people in the past hour), sent via a low bit-rate metastream.

This trend, collectively called edge-computing (with Cisco coining the term Fog Computing), will go someway toward mitigating the expected rise in network traffic and cloud compute resources that the IoT is bringing about. For the MNOs providing the cellular bandwidth, or the sysadmins managing a private network, removing this video traffic from the equation goes a long way toward keeping network upkeep costs down.

The reference design was made in collaboration with Thundercomm Technology, which will also be supplying the global distribution and support. In a quick update on other Snapdragon-based cameras, Qualcomm is pretty upbeat on the likes of LG’s 360 CAM and Action CAM LTE, with the ability to do VR-stream stitching on the cameras themselves rather than the mobile device with which they are paired. Qualcomm notes that this will speed up the ability to upload 360 and VR content to the web, which will then help boost demand on the consumption side of things.

Besides the new camera kit, Qualcomm has also been busy pushing its LTE Cat M1 and NB-IoT (formerly known as Cat M2) modem to the market – promising an announcement from a major OEM “soon.” the session made it sound like Qualcomm believes it has caught up with its rivals (Sequans has been storming ahead in this space), although it’s still early days for the MDM9206 modem.

Citing strong ODM traction, from Quectel, SIMCOM, u-blox, and WNC, as well as trials with AT&T and Verizon in the US, Qualcomm noted that it is focusing on Cat M1 first, with its NB-IoT projects roughly one quarter behind the M1. Qualcomm expects module OEMS to launch Cat M1 products based on the MDM9206 in early 2017, with a software upgrade to NB-IoT (also sometimes called Cat NB-1) available “shortly after.”

Also announced were field trials for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X50 5G modem, which is targeting millimeter wave spectrum in the 28GHz band, as well as 800MHz support. Sampling for the unit is expected in the second half of 2017, with the first commercial products expected in H1 2018.

Finally, new refreshed versions of the Snapdragon 625, 652, and 425 SoCs were unveiled, bringing the new X9 LTE modem to the chips, which provides Cat 7 downlink speeds of up to 300Mbps, and Cat 13 uplink speeds of up to 150Mbps. In terms of design wins, Qualcomm states that there have been more than 400 OEM designs based on the 600-series, with over 300 launched and 100 in the pipeline.

With the new 427, 626, and 653 Snapdragon designs, Qualcomm is hoping that its stack remains valuable to traditional customers, in mobile devices, as well as to companies designing for emerging IoT markets. The 653 and 626 are aiming for commercial availability by the end of the year, with the 427 following in early 2017.

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