MediaTek’s 5G SoC Stands To Bring More Competition To 5G Devices

By Anshel Sag - June 17, 2019
MediaTek's newly announced 5G SoC.

Late last year, MediaTek announced that its M70 5G modem was in the works and would support all kinds of 5G networks and standards—a fully featured 5G modem. Then, at MWC, the company demonstrated the modem’s capabilities with partner equipment, showing some impressive Sub-6Ghz speeds. At Computex, MediaTek followed up with the announcement that it will integrate its M70 modem into an SoC powered by ARM’s latest CPU and GPU cores. Let’s take a closer look.

The details

MediaTek announced during ARM's Computex press conference that it would be leveraging ARM’s new, lightning-fast Cortex-A77 CPU cores and Mali-G77 GPU cores with its M70 5G modem to build a competitive SoC. This is significant because MediaTek is ARM’s first public customer for ARM’s new CPU and GPU cores. Additionally, it is a big deal for MediaTek because the company has traditionally shied away from building a high-performance SoC to compete with the likes of Apple, Huawei , Qualcomm , and Samsung. I suspect that MediaTek may also be one of ARM’s customers for its new AI processing cores, but neither company confirmed this in their announcements.

MediaTek’s 5G SoC will be built on TSMC’s 7nm FinFET technology, putting it on par with its competitors in terms of the process node, at least on paper. The M70 modem is capable of Sub-6GHz speeds up to 4.7 Gbps download and 2.5 Gbps upload, which is in the same ballpark as what many expect from top-end 5GNR modems without mmWave. MediaTek says that the SoC will be ready to sample to lead customers in Q3 2019 and ship in commercial devices in Q1 2020, which is when MediaTek’s competitors are expected to ship their first 5G SoCs. MediaTek also announced it is working with OEMs like Oppo and Vivo on RF designs, as well as RF suppliers like Skyworks, Qorvo, and muRata on a 5G front-end module.

Computex is traditionally a PC show, so it was a bit uncharacteristic for MediaTek to choose this venue for the announcement. However, this may telegraph MediaTek’s possible intention to enter the Windows on ARM family of chip suppliers supported by Microsoft. While this is highly speculative, it’s certainly possible—this chip is very capable from a CPU and GPU perspective.

Wrapping up

This announcement caught a lot of people off guard, because MediaTek hasn’t really been competitive in the high-end of smartphones before—only in the budget SoC category and IoT. With this new 5G SoC, there’s really a significant opportunity for MediaTek to introduce some new competition into the high-end mobile SoC market. It remains to be seen which OEMs will be the first to pick up this SoC, but it’s safe to assume that Oppo and Vivo will be at the front of the line considering their involvement in developing RF designs. I wouldn’t be surprised if Xiaomipicked it up as well since it is a fairly value-driven brand and is already a MediaTek customer. I believe that MediaTek’s 5G SoC will help bring more 5G-enabled smartphones to the market quickly, and at a more affordable price point. This is good for consumers, and good for 5G.

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Anshel Sag is Moor Insights & Strategy’s in-house millennial with over 15 years of experience in the IT industry. Anshel has had extensive experience working with consumers and enterprises while interfacing with both B2B and B2C relationships, gaining empathy and understanding of what users really want. Some of his earliest experience goes back as far as his childhood when he started PC gaming at the ripe of old age of 5 while building his first PC at 11 and learning his first programming languages at 13.