Qualcomm Shifts Business Strategy for IoT

The company is rolling out two new embedded Snapdragon SoCs and for the first time will make chips available through third-party distributors.

Qualcomm chips

Qualcomm officials are using a different go-to-market model for the company's newest embedded processors aimed at the internet of things.

Qualcomm traditionally has sold its mobile Snapdragon systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) directly to its device-making customers. These tended to be a relatively small number of smartphone and tablet makers with high volumes of products and that Qualcomm could easily support, according to Tia Cassett, senior director of product management with the chip maker.

To address the highly distributed and fragmented internet of things (IoT) space, Qualcomm for the first time is now offering two new embedded chips—the Snapdragon 410E and 600E—through distributors, initially Arrow Electronics. The third-party partner will be responsible for supporting and servicing the technology for a huge number of expected small and midsize buyers that don't have the same volume needs as vendors such as Samsung and Apple, Cassett told eWEEK.

Qualcomm is looking to build off the strong technologies it's developed in the mobile device space and use those capabilities to extend its reach into the burgeoning IoT market, she said.

"We're leveraging the technology, and we're taking it to the next level and into the adjacent markets," Cassett said.

In the past, device makers would approach Qualcomm in hopes of buying the company's mobile chips for use in their products. However, if the unit volumes of devices or systems didn't reach a certain level, it made no financial or business sense to sell the prospective customer the chips, she said. By creating specialized chips for the space and using a distributor, selling to smaller companies at lower volumes can now work.

"In order for us to really scale for this type of market, we had to make some changes," Cassett said.

Qualcomm, the world's top chip maker for mobile devices, has been pushing into the IoT space for several years, but the 410E and 600E represent a new step in that direction. It comes as the internet of things continues to grow quickly. Estimates of the number of smart, connected devices, systems and sensors worldwide by 2020 range from about 20 billion to more than 50 billion, but there's general agreement that the rate of growth will be rapid.

It's a more complex world than the mobile device space, with tens of thousands of potential customers that all are looking for the right technologies for the highly connected market. Now, with the new go-to-market strategy, Qualcomm can address the needs of those potential customers by using many of the technologies found in the mobile chips and applying them—as well as the new distributor model—to the IoT space.

"We know of so many companies that are anxious to get their hands on [Qualcomm's] chipsets," Jeff Torrance, vice president of business development at Qualcomm, told eWEEK.

The Snapdragon 600E features a 1.5GHz quad-core Krait 300 CPU and is aimed at advanced systems with multicore performance and immersive 3D graphics, according to Qualcomm officials It also includes the Adreno 320 GPU and Hexagon digital signal processor (DSP), both from Qualcomm, and supports integrated Bluetooth 4.0/LE and 3.x, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi and GPS connectivity.

It can support SATA, SD3.0, DDR memory, eMMC storage, HDMI, LVDS, HSIC and PCIe interfaces.

The 410E has a 1.2GHz quad-core CPU, an Adreno 306 GPU and Hexagon DSP. It supports Bluetooth 4.1/LE, 802.11 b/g/n and GPS, and is aimed at such use cases as smart homes, digital signage, medical equipment, industrial systems and smart surveillance.

Longevity also is a key part of the equation for the embedded chips, Cassett said. The chips will be supported through Arrow for at least 10 years and will be available through 2025. In addition, the technology is available in several ways—on development boards, as commercial-ready modules and as discrete processors that designers can use in their own custom board designs.

Customers can get started evaluating the chips and developing products with them through Arrow's DragonBoard 410c community development board, according to Qualcomm officials.