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4G Mobile Experience Workshop: The Modem Matters [w/videos]

Thursday, in a studio in downtown San Francisco, dozens of reporters, analysts and industry experts joined Qualcomm Technologies to learn more about one of the most important, but often overlooked, components of a mobile device: the modem.

The central question of this first-of-its-kind workshop was simple: Why does the modem matter? 

During a day filled with technology presentations, talks by industry analysts, and hands-on benchmarking, attendees and participants explored the role of the modem in a mobile device, the features and environmental factors that most affect modem performance and the modem performance metrics that most matter to end users. 

So why does the modem matter?

Did you know that the mobile environment can degrade the signal from a cell tower by more than 100 trillion times? Or that a mobile device battery has enough energy to lift an average adult six stories high? Mobile broadband is truly an amazing technical achievement and the modem is at the center of making our lives mobile. 

By establishing and maintaining a wireless connection between a mobile device and the network, a modem is what connects your mobile device to the world, wherever you are, wherever you go. To do that, however, the modem must be able to communicate with and between all of the different overlapping wireless networks—from 2G to 3G to 4G LTE—seamlessly and globally. This task is becoming increasingly complex with the worldwide proliferation of cellular radio bands, especially for LTE.

And what role does Qualcomm Technologies play in the mobile world? 

Qualcomm Technologies, with its long and rich history in mobile communications technology, is a leader in designing solutions that solve the tremendous technical complexity of the mobile world. Supporting all major cellular technologies, plus the numerous inter-technology handovers, and then optimizing the modem on multiple dimensions—power, heat, size, and data rate—is no trivial task. Qualcomm Technologies not only does all of the above, but takes it a step further by integrating the modem with several other key components (e.g., applications processor, GPU, DSP, sensors, Wi-Fi and multimedia) to provide a comprehensive systems solutions that is designed for the mobile era.

Included in the morning session was a presentation on the global modem landscape from analyst Francis Sideco of iSuppli, who highlighted the need for balance between modem and applications processor in a mobile chipset. A balanced approach ensures an enhanced end-user experience and benefits both the device as well as the wireless network. 

Also in the morning session, Mike Thelander, CEO of Signals Research Group, shared his experience in field testing modem chipsets and showed device performance data that he had collected on real-world 3G, LTE and LTE Advanced networks. He discussed benchmarking best practices and the role of the network and the device in measuring performance. Among the things Mike told attendees they needed to know—and ideally, quantify—before benchmarking:

·         What are the network conditions (e.g., strong/weak signals, low/high interference)?

·         Is network loading impacting the performance? If so, to what degree?

·         For side-by-side device testing, are all characteristics the same (e.g., same radio channel, same cell site, comparable RF signal levels)?

Other interesting tidbits from Mike’s presentation: Did you know that seeing five bars on your phone does not necessarily mean you are in good signal conditions? Or that a better-performing device—one with interference cancellation—can not only get you faster download speeds, but also increase the network efficiency by up to 32 percent?

The highlight of the day, however, came in the afternoon when attendees were allowed to participate in live modem benchmarking using some of the latest commercial mobile devices and network test equipment from Anritsu. 

The benchmarking included comparisons of key modem performance indicators (i.e., throughput, power and an often overlooked aspect—mobility). In addition, there were live demonstrations that showcased technology advancements such as LTE Advanced Carrier Aggregation and Qualcomm TruSignal technology enhancements. Bringing the theme of the workshop to life, the modem testing stations clearly focused on the mobile user experience, as all tests were done on the latest commercial devices and showcased commonly used applications such as video streaming, Web browsing, and uploading videos to YouTube. Some key user takeaways from the test stations included:

·         Watch smoother 4K videos (with minimal interruptions) on devices enabled by Qualcomm® Gobi™ modems

·         Move seamlessly from 4G to 3G networks while watching your videos on your mobile device powered by Qualcomm Gobi

·         Upload videos in half the time compared to the competition with Qualcomm TruSignal Uplink Antenna boost

·         Download 15 percent more data on the same charge with a Qualcomm Gobi modem-enabled device

·         Download nearly twice the number of webpages in the same time with a Qualcomm Gobi modem

All in all, it was a great day filled with lively industry discussion and real-world testing. Many attendees expressed an interest to do it all over again next year and that’s the hope. Until then, however, be looking for more exciting news from Qualcomm Technologies’ modem team in the weeks and months ahead.

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