Is the Exynos 980 the Beginning of Mass 5G Accessibility?

J.C. Kuang, Analyst J.C. Kuang, Analyst Augmented Reality, Augmented Reality Intelligence Service, Devices & Technology, Insight Articles, Telecommunications

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On Sept 4th, Samsung announced its latest proprietary system-on-chip (SoC) processor, the Exynos 980, during IFA 2019. As with previous Exynos chips, it will power international variants of Samsung smartphones in markets outside of North America, China, and Japan. According to preliminary specifications, the 980 is positioned for the mid-range market in terms of performance and thus is unlikely to compete directly with competing flagship-grade SoCs like the Snapdragon 855 chip from Qualcomm.

However, continuing gains in performance in the smartphone SoC sector mean that current midrange chips like the 980 are competitive with flagships from as recently as last year. The Qualcomm 845 chip, found in 2018 flagship phones like the Galaxy Note 9 and the Razer Phone 2, lacks compelling features present on the Exynos, like fast UFS storage which should improve the media capabilities of the handset over slower eMMC flash storage.

The key feature of the Exynos 980, however, is the integration of a proper 5G NR-compliant modem alongside the rest of its typical components, including a CPU, GPU, and neural processing unit for on-device machine learning tasks. According to Samsung, the modem will support sub 6GHz bands currently in use in limited regional 5G deployments from operators like EE in the United Kingdom

Critical Guidance

Samsung's A-series handsets lack flagship features but perform more than adequately for many typical mobile computing tasks. Image courtesy Samsung.

Crucially, the Exynos 980’s native support of 5G places it in a small class of SoCs capable of taking full advantage of current true 5G infrastructure (meaning deployments that adhere to the ‘New Radio’ standards set forth by regulatory bodies like the 3GPP, as opposed to marketing-driven deployments like AT&T’s “5Ge”). While Samsung and other competitors have already released handsets touting 5G support, these devices have necessitated costly and cumbersome workarounds like an external peripheral or the inclusion of two modems within a single handset, as in the S10 5G.

Samsung’s announcement has significant implications for the smartphone industry as a whole.  Firstly, the company’s intent to begin mass production soon places significant pressure on the industry to adjust its pace towards standardizing integrated 5G modems, and correspondingly accelerating 5G NR deployments from network operators. Secondly, the positioning of the chip into midrange handsets like the Samsung A-series will likely see it distributed in developing markets across eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and others, indicating Samsung’s own bullishness on 5G compatibility as a selling point across more price ranges.

AR stakeholders should redouble efforts to forge strong partnerships with the telecommunications industry, especially handset manufacturers and network operators. As telecoms and smartphone manufacturers alike advance towards global 5G adoption, the use of high-speed networks to deliver high-quality AR content remains among the most oft-cited selling points of the technology for consumers, especially as major AR stakeholders continue to uncover additional value in mobile consumer AR markets.