Kris Carlon/Android Authority
If you’ve ever looked at smartphone spec sheets, you might have come across the name Qualcomm. As one of the world’s largest semiconductor companies, you’ll find Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC on many mid-range and high-end Android smartphones, along with little competition from MediaTek and Samsung. The company even develops 5G modems for the iPhone and was recently credited with helping make satellite to phone connectivity a reality.
In other words, if you own a smartphone, you’ve probably already used Qualcomm’s technologies in one way or another. But it doesn’t just end there: the company has its sights set on emerging technologies such as augmented reality, artificial intelligence, Wi-Fi 7, and more. Here’s everything you need to know about Qualcomm and why it’s so important.
What is Qualcomm and what does the company do?
Qualcomm is an American company that primarily designs semiconductor and wireless communications technologies and products. The company’s Snapdragon SoC line, for example, powers the majority of Android smartphones on the market, up to 65% in some segments, according to a recent study. tailstock report.
Since Qualcomm is not a hardware manufacturing company, a significant portion of its revenue comes from licensing proprietary technologies. As for the manufacturing of Snapdragon SoCs and modems, it relies on third-party chipmakers like TSMC, Samsung Foundry, and GlobalFoundries. Qualcomm then sells these products to smartphone manufacturers like SamsungXiaomi, Oppo and others.
A brief history of the company.
Headquartered in San Diego, Qualcomm was founded in 1985 as a contract research and development company. The name of the company arose from the combination of the words “Quality Communications”. Qualcomm started out working solely on defense and military communications projects. Then, in 1988, the company raised $3.5 million to develop Omnitracs, a satellite tracking system for trucking companies. The project was a great success and provided Qualcomm with enough funds to begin its research on CDMA cellular technology.
The chip giant played a significant role in the development of the early US cellular industry. Most carriers adopted the CDMA standards developed by Qualcomm for 2G networks. The company has also helped operators in international markets such as India, Latin America, Canada, Russia and China to integrate its CDMA technology. Simultaneously, it also licensed patents and technologies to mobile phone manufacturers such as Nokia, Sony, Motorola, and others.
Qualcomm started out as a contract research company and eventually spearheaded CDMA cellular implementation worldwide.
Over the past decade, the company has also developed and acquired a number of patents related to 4G-LTE and 5G cellular technologies. In addition to cellular technologies, Qualcomm also began work on developing its own semiconductor designs based on the Arm architecture family in 2006. The first Snapdragon SoC, released in 2007, was the first mobile SoC to run at a clock speed of 1 GHz. The Snapdragon series lives on to this day and we’ll delve into the company’s current generation chips in a back section.
Over the past decade, Qualcomm has also developed semiconductor products for emerging applications such as AR/VR. The Snapdragon XR2, for example, powers Meta’s popular Quest 2 and professional search As for AI and machine learning, the company’s latest SoCs include a dedicated Tensor Accelerator chip. In the computing space, Qualcomm develops the Arm-based Snapdragon 8cx line for ultraportable laptops. In 2021, the company also acquired Nuvia, a startup co-founded by former Apple engineers, to enhance its presence in the computing industry.
Is Qualcomm the best mobile chip maker?
Robert Triggs / Android Authority
As mentioned above, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon SoCs lead the Android smartphone market in terms of market share. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the company makes the best chips on the market.
The closest competitor MediaTek, also develops and sells chips that compete with Qualcomm’s entry-level, mid-range and high-end offerings. The performance crown often goes back and forth between these two companies, but the real-world differences are often minor and inconsequential. Qualcomm’s competitors also include Samsung and Apple. The latter makes its own SoCs for almost its entire product line, including the iPhone, iPad, and Macbook.
While Apple’s SoCs are also based on the Arm architecture, the company has a license to build its own chips from scratch. This has allowed Apple to extend a considerable advantage over other smartphone chipmakers, due to its reliance on Arm-supplied cores. However, Apple does not sell its chips to third parties, allowing Qualcomm to establish market dominance in the Android industry.
The best Qualcomm chips: Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, Snapdragon 778G and others
Robert Triggs / Android Authority
Qualcomm’s mobile SoC portfolio can be divided into three distinct categories based on performance and price. The Snapdragon 8 series sits at the top of the heap. The last Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 power flagship and high-end smartphones in 2022. Examples include Samsung’s Galaxy S22 series, OnePlus 10T, and Oppo Find X4 Pro.
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 has an octa-core CPU design, with the latest Arm including 1x Cortex-X2, 3x Cortex-A710, and 4x Cortex-A510 cores. It also features the company’s Adreno 730 GPU, which easily outperforms other Android SoCs. However, Apple’s A16 Bionic in the iPhone 14 Pro It leads the best of Qualcomm in terms of CPU performance and sustained performance. In May 2022, Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 — a mid-cycle update that increased clock speed and improved efficiency.
Some Android smartphone makers are also opting for previous generation Snapdragon flagship SoCs to compete in the sub-flagship price range. The Snapdragon 870, for example, has become a popular choice for manufacturers like xiaomiRealme and Motorola.
Meanwhile, in the mid-range market, Qualcomm’s latest offering is the Snapdragon 7 Gen 1, followed by the Snapdragon 778G. This series powers smartphones like the Nothing Phone 1, Xiaomi 12 Lite, Samsung Galaxy A73 5G and Motorola Edge 30. Qualcomm also offers basic and cheap chips. Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 and Snapdragon 4 Gen 1 have started making their way to sub-$500 smartphones and will be more common in 2023 and beyond.
Qualcomm makes telecommunications and semiconductor products like the modems and CPUs found in modern consumer electronics. The company also spearheaded CDMA research and development in the 20th century. To this day, Qualcomm licenses its patents and technologies to smartphone manufacturers and carriers around the world.
In the smartphone industry, Qualcomm competes with chips made by Apple, MediaTek, Samsung and a handful of smaller manufacturers. In the wireless segment, the company competes with Broadcom, Intel and Texas Instruments.
Qualcomm doesn’t make its own chips. Instead, Qualcomm-designed chips and wireless infrastructure are manufactured in third-party owned semiconductor manufacturing facilities. The company has signed deals with Samsung Foundry, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), and GlobalFoundries in the past.
Although Qualcomm’s Snapdragon series of chips dominates the Android industry, the company doesn’t make or sell its own smartphones.