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INTERVIEW: MediaTek GM on future processors and what else to expect from the company

Thanks to massive growth of budget Android smartphones in India, Mediatek has done well for itself. We talk to the company's GM about what Mediatek has in store for the future.

INTERVIEW: MediaTek GM on future processors and what else to expect from the...

Thanks to the surging popularity of budget Android smartphones and tablets in India, Mediatek, the chipmakers, have also witnessed massive growth in the country. During this time of growth and exciting developments we caught up with Dr. Finbarr Moynihan, the General Manager of Corporate Business Development for Mediatek and asked him a range of questions from Mediatek’s outlook on the Indian market to the new octa-core SoCs waiting in the company’s pipelines.

MediaTek has been powering most of the budget and value smartphone offerings from Indian brands like Micromax and Xolo. When do you see Mediatek's SOCs finding a place inside global brands like Samsung, HTC, Sony and Nokia?

We are very pleased with the progress of many of the strong local brands – such as Micromax and Xolo in India – over the past years in progressing their portfolios from feature phones to now include entry and higher-tier smartphones as well – such as the high-tier Canvas family from Micromax that has been quite successful in the market. As well as that, we are very pleased with the smartphones from many top 10 OEM brands worldwide that are shipping with MediaTek – including LGE, Motorola, ZTE, Huawei and others like Acer, Lenovo, Alcatel and Coolpad. We remain open and enthusiastic about potential engagement with other Tier 1 OEMs, but at this stage do not have any more specifics to announce.


Dr. Finbarr Moynihan, Mediatek GM of Corporate Business Development

What class of devices is the recently launched MT8135 SOC targeted at?

We have introduced our latest MT8135 SoC for the high-end tablets segment. The quad-core solution incorporates two high-performance ARM Cortex-A15 and two ultra-efficient ARM Cortex-A7 processors, and the latest GPU from Imagination Technologies, the PowerVR Series 6. Complemented by a highly optimized ARM big.LITTLE processing subsystem that allows for heterogeneous multi-processing, the resulting solution is primed to deliver premium user experiences. This includes the ability to seamlessly engage in a range of processor-intensive applications, including heavy web-downloading, hardcore gaming, high-quality video viewing and rigorous multitasking – all the while maintaining the utmost power efficiency. We position the MT8135 for mid-high tier tablets where we believe the super-quad core, leading graphics and multimedia technology can be appreciated by the users looking for a premium experience at an affordable price.


The big.LITTLE architecture

Can you give us more details about the clock speeds of the upcoming quad-core MTK6290 SOC with 4G/LTE support, and whether it is very similar to the hugely popular MT6589/ MT6589T series?

At this time, we are not disclosing further details of our LTE solutions.

The GPU performance for the MT6589 series has been particularly weak when compared to the Tegra 3 and Qualcomm Snapdragon series of quad-core SOCs, when can we expect Mediatek to match and hopefully outperform them?

We believe that the MT6589, launched late last year, delivered the right level of GPU performance for mid-high tier smartphones – that still aim to hit affordable price points for the consumers. Some of the mentioned competitor products are more targeted at the very-high end premium models where prices can often be $500 or more – we are aiming for a different segment with the MT6589. Indeed, for 2013, we expect that 25-35% of our smartphone shipments will be based on our quad-core platforms, predominantly the MT6589. That said, we continue to see the need for increased GPU performance and indeed our new mobile processor, the MT8135, takes the integrated graphics performance to a new level – being the first mobile processor to integrate the latest Imagination Technologies PowerVR Series 6 GPU core.

After China, India has been one of the key markets where Mediatek has witnessed significant success over the past two years. How do you see the growth story progressing over the next two years, do you have any specific targets in mind for Indian market share?


India is an important market for us. MediaTek’s main focus in India has been the mobile segment. To begin with, our focus was on feature phones and following our success in that space, we moved into the smartphone category and also now tablets and data-modem products, such as data-cards.

We look forward to tap into the consumer requirements in India and opportunities in the market that arise when consumers move from 2G to 3G and from feature to smart phones. We will continue to work with our local Indian brand partners and operators to deliver innovative products. We also plan to expand into our other sets of business besides mobile.

MediaTek has been implementing all their SOCs around the ARM architecture so far. Do you have any plans of working on your own custom/modified architecture (on the lines of how Qualcomm has done with the Snapdragon series)?

We have already begun our journey down this lane. In line with its reputation for creating innovative, market-leading platform solutions, MediaTek has deployed an advanced scheduler algorithm, combined with adaptive thermal and interactive power management to maximize the performance and energy efficiency benefits of the ARM big.LITTLE architecture. This technology enables application software to access all of the processors in the big.LITTLE cluster simultaneously for a true heterogeneous experience. Going forward, we do hope to develop more such innovative modifications to offer the best possible architecture to our customers.

Power draw and power to performance ratio has been the key focus lately with all SOC vendors. How do you see the market going forward and dealing with the balancing act of adding more and more performance to smartphones and keeping the power draw to a minimum level?

The move towards multi-tasking devices requires increased performance while creating greater power efficiency that can only be achieved through an optimized multi-core system approach. This means that multi-core processing capability is fast becoming a vital feature of mobile SoC solutions. As such, MediaTek is taking the lead to improve battery life in next-generation tablet and mobile device designs by providing more flexibility to match tasks with the right-size core for better computational, graphical and multimedia performance. As well as this, we are also moving aggressively into new process technology nodes – being the first company world-wide to deploy mid-range, quad-core (MT6589) and entry (MT6572) platforms in 28nm technology. We also continuously focus on adding advanced, dedicated multimedia features – for display processing, camera processing, memory bandwidth optimizations, video recording and playback – all with dedicated hardware functionality and optimized system architectures to reduce power consumption without sacrificing the user experience. As a recent example of this, our latest smartphone and tablet platforms include what we call our MiraVision technology to bring DTV-quality display capabilities to mobile devices. This technology includes such features as AAL (Ambient-light Adaptive Luma), LABC (Light-based Adaptive Backlight Control) & CABC (Content-based Adaptive Dynamic Backlight Control) that controls the backlight and power consumption based on ambient light, content etc. to reduce the overall power consumption for the display by as much as 50%.   

Linking to my previous question, in your experience and collective feedback from device manufacturers, when do you see the industry arriving at the tipping point where all the focus goes to power consumption and optimization, assuming that by then core performance would have reached a level where most SOCs would be capable enough to deliver a uniform experience for most general (daily) tasks?

We believe that we are essentially at that point – the focus is and will continue to be on balancing between optimizing power consumption and adding more performance and features. We will certainly see new platforms that add more CPU and GPU cores, higher-performance cores and higher operating frequencies, but we will deliver these with architectures, process technologies and the right balance of hardware and software optimizations to also optimize the power consumption. In summary, we don’t see it as a mutually exclusive focus between power consumption and performance – instead, it will continue to require a careful balancing of these competing requirements.

With display resolutions jumping from 1280x720 to 1920x1080, how much of a overhead (%) does it add on the SOC in terms of performance and the battery life (%) of a device (taking a 5-inch smartphone as a reference)?

The power consumption is more determined by the physical size of the display (4” vs 5” vs 6” etc.) than the resolution – since larger screens require more backlight controls and power consumption. Additionally, the larger resolutions do require more memory bandwidth and power consumption associated with the larger amounts of data being transferred between the SoC and memory.

So far Mediatek SOCs have been powering Android devices, can we expect them to power Windows mobile devices in future?

Windows is coming up as an operating system but for now they have low volumes as compared to Android. We foresee some good devices coming with Windows Phone and expect they will take a certain percentage of the market. At the moment we do not support Windows, and are focused on Android. However, MediaTek has always been open to tapping into new opportunities, and when the time comes we can support Windows in the future.

From an SOC supplier point of view, what are your thoughts on the various mobile ecosystems (Android, Windows, iOS, Blackberry) and even the upcoming (Firefox, Tizen, Ubuntu..) mobile OS ecosystems?

Recent figures released by IDC show that Android operating system remains the leader in the smartphone operating system market, increasing its market share to 79.3% in Q2 this year, up 10% from last year. The intra-Android competition has not stifled companies from keeping Android as the cornerstone of their respective smartphone strategies, but has upped the ante to innovate proprietary experiences. So, we expect Android will continue to rule the market in the immediate future. Windows Phone posted the largest year-over-year increase among the top five smartphone platforms, and in the process reinforced its position as the number 3 smartphone operating system, demonstrating both end-user demand and OEM support.

Despite posting a year-over-year decline in share in the worldwide smartphone operating system market, iOS finished the quarter as the clear number 2 operating system, indicating that even without new product launches, demand remains strong worldwide. At the same time, it cannot be ignored that the iOS experience has remained largely the same since the first iPhone debuted in 2007. What remains to be seen is how the new iOS 7 will be received once it reaches the market later this year, as much of the look and feel of the user interface has been revamped.

BlackBerry saw its market share decline during the quarter, but BlackBerry has shown steady progress since the launch of its BB 10 platform, which has grown to three models, additional mobile operators, and a greater presence within its total volumes. It is still early days for the platform, however, and BlackBerry will need time and resources to evangelize more end users.

We continue to monitor the progress of other Linux-based OS, such as Firefox OS, Ubuntu, Tizen – but do not expect significant market share in the short term.

Apart from smartphones and tablets, which other device categories are you betting on the most for future growth and implementation of your higher-end SOC solutions?

At this stage, we remain heavily focused on the smartphone and tablet devices & platforms. At MediaTek, we also have a strong portfolio of home entertainment platforms – such as DTV and Blu-ray DVD, where we see the growing trend towards smart, connected devices that also require more CPU, GPU, multimedia and applications processing capabilities with higher-level operating systems. We expect connected, smart TVs and other home-entertainment devices like STB, DVD, IP-streaming boxes to continue to drive growth for our platforms and products.

Currently all your SOCs are on a 28nm architecture, when do you see yourself moving to 22nm?

We are not announcing any details at this time

There has been a lot of talk on the challenges and cost implications towards moving to a 22nm architecture, is it a bigger hurdle in terms of technical possibilities and capabilities as compared to 28nm based architectures? There have also been discussions over the marginal (20-25%) improvement promise of 22nm architecture making GF and TSMC consider jumping to 16/14nm as a better solution. What are your thoughts on these?

We are not announcing any details of our plans or investigations on next-generation process technology at this time.

Two years from now, how do you see yourself positioned against the likes of Qualcomm and Intel as the two major SOC players? Also, while Intel has been late to the party, their upcoming SOC solutions seem to look very promising in terms of performance and power draw. How do you see yourself competing against Intel in future?

There is always competition in this business, we try not to focus on what our competitors are doing, we strive ourselves to deliver better platforms, more features. We believe that if we deliver better products and a reference solution and a support structure, it will allow us to support our customers to adopt those products. We will be successful, that is what we believe, rather than concentrating on what our competitors are doing.

You have just announced the world’s first "true octa-core based SOC solution". Can you give us more details on the same?

The move towards multi-tasking devices requires increased performance while creating greater power efficiency that can be achieved through an optimized multi-core technology. This means that multi-core processing capability is fast becoming an integral part of the mobile SoC, resulting in the call for the upgrade to octa-core platforms.

 


Mediatek True Octa-Core

MediaTek is the first adopter of a true, authentic octa-core SoC in mobiles devices, while leveraging its benefits and optimizing the system approach to the absolute maximum. Unlike existing octa-core solutions in the market, which can only activate half of their CPU cores at once, MediaTek True Octa-Core allows for all eight of its cores to run simultaneously, offering the ultimate combination of performance and power-efficiency.

By allowing tasks to run concurrently with the use of multiple different cores, MediaTek True Octa-Core intelligently allocates processing power to where it is needed, both on a per-application and per-task basis. With MediaTek True Octa-Core, users can enjoy heavy web downloading, hardcore gaming, high-quality premium video viewing or other types of rigorous multitasking without experiencing lag times or excessive battery consumption.

We will be announcing specific product details at a later date.

Do you have any questions about Mediatek's India strategy or its upcoming processor? Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter @digitindia



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