The State of Nvidia’s LTE Modems At Mobile World Congress

Nvidia made some very interesting announcements at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. While they won’t win the “most mobile SKUs” award, what is apparent is that they are making major headway with their software-based LTE modem technology. Let’s look at what Nvidia announced at MWC 2014.

Global LTE data with Tegra Note 7

First, Nvidia announced they were integrating their discrete i500 LTE modem into their own Tegra Note 7 tablet and can support “global” networks. While it will start by launching in several different regions, I have confirmed that “global” means the tablet can work on carriers across 6 continents and more than 65 countries. The Note 7 LTE is priced at $299, very attractive for a tablet with LTE.

Given the i500 modem already received data and voice certification by AT&T and Vodaphone by November, 2013, this announcement timing makes sense. AT&T and Vodaphone are notoriously the most challenging to provide certifications, so it’s reasonable that Nvidia could go global with data 6 months later after system (Note 7) certifications. What’s even more interesting that I am told there is a SKU of Tegra Note 7 that supports voice. This would represent Nvidia’s first global rollout of LTE. The Note 7 LTE currently supports 100mbps multi-mode CAT-3 LTE, 3G, HSPA+, and EDGE, the kind of wireless already deployed in most countries.nividia-logo

While we already know the performance of the Note 7 WiFi, I will be looking forward to seeing performance and battery life benchmarks on the Tegra Note 7 LTE versus the latest crop of tablets coming out of MWC 2014.

OK, so how about phones?

Europe and South America data and voice with Tegra 4i

If the i500 in the Tegra Note 7 LTE is all about discrete LTE, then the Tegra 4i is all about integrated LTE. The Tegra 4i uses the same core wireless found in i500 – both are fundamentally using the same NVIDIA modem technology. The Tegra 4i integrates four A9 Revision 4 CPU cores, one “battery-saver” saver CPU core, 60 programmable shaders for graphics, and an i500 CAT-3 LTE data/voice modem, all on a single SoC.

LG announced that in South America they are using the Tegra 4i in their new G2 Mini smartphone. The G2 mini is a 4.7” smartphone with a 13MP camera supporting LTE and HSPA+.

One of the faster growing European local smartphone companies, Wiko, also announced they are using NVIDIA Tegra 4i in a smartphone called “WAX”.  Nvidia says Wiko will ship WAX into France, Germany, U.K., Belgium, Italy, and Portugal in April.

I think the Nvidia Tegra 4i-based LG G2 mini and the Wiko WAX will do well in performance benchmarks versus phones in its class, and I’m really interested to see battery life. Nvidia has said that the integrated i500 is 40% the size of a traditional LTE modem, which should help with power, but integration is always a challenge for any SoC maker. Integration challenges is just one reason there are very few mobile SoCs integrated with an LTE modem.

The Nvidia Modem Takeaways

For me, the biggest takeaways from the Tegra Note 7 LTE, LG G2 and Wiko announcements are about the state of Nvidia’s software defined modem technology. Nvidia is demonstrating they can support the world’s largest networks with both voice and data. And not only that, their modem is real. Production devices are rolling out with it. This is light years beyond where they were a year ago, as Nvidia was just doing hardware demos.

While Nvidia knows they need to accelerate their efforts in next-gen network standards, I have to give credit where it’s due. Nvidia has come a long way.