Qualcomm has introduced a type of processor that combines the low-power expertise that Qualcomm has perfected in the mobile world with radios that it has designed and acquired over the years. The internet processor is the first Qualcomm has designed for a residential gateway device and was developed in preparation for a glut of connected objects in the home. This is another new market for the company that invented the CDMA protocol.
The two internet processors that Qualcomm launched are like network processors with an ability to process a lot of packets really quickly. The special bits for Qualcomm is that these chips can do this without consuming a lot of power. The chips contain a dual-core Krait processor that operates at 1.4 GHz and also adds a network accelerator engine that can process streams of up to 5 Gbps. Add to this a mess of radios including Wi-Fi and cellular and you have the overall design.
In an interview last week Amir Faintuch, president, Qualcomm Atheros, explained that because of all the bandwidth consuming devices in the consumer home, processing all those requests is creating network bottlenecks that are more common in data centers. For the user, this means that your Netflix stream might not be bogging down because you don’t have the bandwidth, but because your router just can’t manage as many simultaneous streams.
Hence a network processor for inside the home. Faintuch says that it should appear in products next year, although I’m curious if this is a problem that many consumers will have or more of an anticipated issue. I have plenty of connected devices and a somewhat iffy connection, which I’ve ascribed to the fluctuation that comes with a cable modem. But perhaps it’s a backlog caused by the packets hitting my router all at the same time.
For most consumers this isn’t even an issue they have to worry about given that most consumers simply don’t buy their own modems. So for Qualcomm the question will be if service providers buy into this concept. Many of them are launching their own connected home offerings, so carriers could soon experience the pain of too many devices attempting to ping their gateways.
The deeper push into connected home devices follows on Qualcomm’s 2011 purchase of Wi-Fi chip firm Atheros and as part of a renewed push into industries that are outside the mobile phone. While Qualcomm’s application processors and radios are a huge business, the company knows that as computing becomes ubiquitous it has to have products that solve the problems encountered in cars, homes and even in spread-out citywide networks. Hence Qualcomm’s investment in technologies as diverse as displays or software to connect the internet of things.
Clearly Qualcomm has come a long way from CDMA.