Snapdragon 888 brings new 5G carrier aggregation capabilities

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Imaging, gaming and AI get big boosts with Snapdragon 888

On the second day of its Qualcomm Snapdragon Tech Summit, company reps provided deep dives into key aspects of the forthcoming Snapdragon 888 5G Mobile Platform, giving a glimpse into some of the features Android users can expect in 2021 flagship devices. 

In addition to the 5G and connectivity details, Qualcomm went deep on significant enhancements around imaging, gaming and artificial intelligence. 

Connectivity

Built on a 5-nanometer process, Snapdragon 888 integrates the X60 Modem-RF System in a major stepchange from the previous premium-tier 5G platform, the Snapdragon 865, which was coupled with the X55 modem but it wasn’t integrated into the SoC. 

The 888 and its integrated X60 supports 5G at millimeter wave and sub-6 GHz frequencies and both non-standalone and standalone modes. In addition to supporting Dynamic Spectrum Sharing, the latest from Qualcomm allows for aggregation of up to eight, 100 megahertz millimeter wave carriers and 2X2 MIMO; for sub-6, the new platform can handle 200 megahertz of bandwidth and 4X4 MIMO. Notably, the Snapdragon 888 can aggregate FDD and TDD frequencies. In practice that would mean a carrier like T-Mobile, with a standalone 600 MHz 5G network and 2.5 GHz non-standalone 5G network, can soon sell phones that aggregate those two bands rather than toggling between them. 

Qualcomm’s Ziad Asghar, vice president of product management, said the broad band and band combination support that comes with the 888 allows for “global [device]launches with a single design. It is designed to bring ultimate flexibility to operators.” The X60 can push peak downlink speeds of 7.5 Gbps and uplink speeds of 3 Gbps. 

On the Wi-Fi side, Snapdragon 888 supports most flavors of Wi-Fi–802.11 a/b/g/n–Wi-Fi 5, based on the IEEE 802.11ac standard, and the latest Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Wi-Fi 6E, which extends ax into the newly liberalized 6 GHz band. The peak Wi-Fi speed is 3.6 Gbps; and the platform sports integrated support for Bluetooth 5.2. 

Imaging

Asghar said for smartphone users and OEMs, “The number one ask…continues to be imaging and best in class camera experiences.” He said some 1.4 trillion photos will be taken by year-end with the “vast majority” captured on smartphones. As such, “We are tripling down on the camera experience with the 888.”

Qualcomm’s latest Spectra 580 Image Signal Processor is 35% faster than its predecessor and can capture 2.7 Gigapixels per second. The latest Spectra is a triple ISP meaning it can simultaneously capture three photo streams–ultrawide, wide and telephoto–then uses triple parallel processing and AI-based computational photography to essentially identify then stitch together the best parts of disparate images into one image. 

Other key features include: triple 4K HDR video capture; triple 28 Megapixel photo capture; burst capture of 120 photos in one second at 12 Megapixels; 4K HDR video capture with computational HDR; and improved low-light capture capabilities. It’s important to note that while Qualcomm’s tech can support these features, it’s up to the device OEMs to implement them for end users to take advantage of the capabilities. 

Qualcomm Senior Marketing Manager P.J. Jacobowitz noted that “professional quality photos and videos are only delivered by a computational camera.” With an 888-equipped device, “You have a professional camera in your pocket,” he said.

Gaming

Mobile gaming has been a big priority for Qualcomm and device OEMs and, on the carrier side, it’s also seen as a monetizable consumer-facing 5G service that draws on higher throughput, lower latency and distributed computing capabilities. And, despite decreased personal mobility due to COVID-19, Qualcomm pointed out that mobile gaming as an industry is still seeing major growth. 

For mobile gaming uses, Asghar pointed out the important distinction between raw power for the purposes of benchmarking versus raw power for the purposes of sustained performance, which is key in this particular use case. “You need a smartphone that can sustain that performance and allow you to play it for long periods of time.” He said mobile gaming has become a “social norm” that will further advance with proliferation of extended reality which is poised to take “gaming to a completely different level, augmenting graphics and mobility, and immersing you in a virtual world.” 

The 888’s GPU is Adreno 660 which supports HDR gaming with 10-bit color depth and HDR Playback Codec support for HDR10+, HRD10, HLG and Dolby Vision. In terms of display support, 888 can accommodate 4K at 60 Hz and QHD+ at 144 Hz. 

“The Adreno 660 GPU is at the heart of our gaming experience, and this year we achieved our biggest leap in graphics rendering speeds while focusing on sustaining that performance over long periods of time,” Director of Advanced Content and Gaming Dave Durnil wrote in a blog. “Adreno 660 GPU provides 35 percent faster graphics rendering, while being 20 percent more power efficient when compared to its predecessor. This boost in graphics processing power enables the most advanced HDR features for mobile gaming and easily powers framerates up to 144 fps.”

AI

On-device AI also got a big advancement with Snapdragon 888 with Qualcomm calling out the crucial role of AI as it “operates behind the scenes,” as Asghar put it, noting things like voice and face recognition, predictive assistance, and personalization. “We have made massive upgrades to the Snapdragon 888 to address the demands of the many AI applications. “ 

He called out the processing demands associated with AI and noted the balancing act of supporting higher performance workloads without sacrificing power. Snapdragon 888 takes a new architectural approach to AI by fusing scalar, vector and tensor accelerators together into one unit and adds a layer of shared memory bypassing the need to tap into external memory. 

In a blog post, VP of Technology Jeff Gehlhaar called this “our biggest leap in architecture and performance in years. For this new generation, we’re removing the physical distances between the accelerators and fusing them together, so it’s now on one big AI accelerator….The shared memory is 16x larger than its predecessor, and the result is an impressive hand-off time between the accelerators in the nanosecond range — up to 1000x faster in certain use cases.

Prakash Sangam, founder and principal of Tantra Analyst, told RCR Wireless News, “Snapdragon 888 brings very impressive technological advancements across the board from camera to AI, connectivity, security, XR, gaming and more. It sets the performance bar pretty high for the 2021 smartphones, and competition will find it extremely hard to match or pass it.”

“I can’t wait to see all of these new and amazing experiences come to life in snapdragon 888 smartphones next year,” Asghar said.

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