Qualcomm’s first 64-bit chipset targets Rs 10,000 4G LTE smartphones for China and India

It was only a matter of time before Qualcomm announced its 64-bit processor for smartphones after Apple introduced the world’s first such processor for the iPhone 5S. However, instead of aiming for the top-of-the-line smartphones, Qualcomm today announced the Snapdragon 410, its first chipset with 64-bit processing architecture, will power “high volume” smartphones. Targeted squarely at China (and to a lesser extent India) where 4G networks are just getting commercial deployments, the Snapdragon 410 will support all major 4G LTE bands and modes, while also supporting all 3G bands.

The Snapdragon 410 is based on 28nm process, and will come with support for dual and triple SIM card slots, which is of crucial importance for both markets. Other supported features include Adreno 306 GPU, 1080p video playback, up to a 13-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi, GPS, NFC and FM radio. The chipset will begin sampling in first half of 2014 with devices expected to be commercially available in the second half of the year. Qualcomm is also providing its OEM partners a reference design to hasten the process and lower their R&D expenses.

“We are excited to bring 4G LTE to highly affordable smartphones at a sub $150 price point with the introduction of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor,” said Jeff Lorbeck, senior vice president and chief operating officer, Qualcomm Technologies, China. “The Snapdragon 410 chipset will also be the first of many 64-bit capable processors as Qualcomm Technologies helps lead the transition of the mobile ecosystem to 64-bit processing.”

The announcement is important for many reasons. Firstly, with the first 4G networks in China (China Mobile) and India (Airtel) flipping the switch on later this month (and Reliance Jio Infocom eventually), there is a dearth of compatible 4G LTE smartphones that are available to users owing to the different bands and technology (TD-LTE) that is being used rather than the “standard” bands and FD-LTE used in the US and Europe. Currently compatible smartphones like the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C among others are too expensive for the services to take off in a significant manner. Qualcomm realizes it needs to bring the prices of 4G smartphones down significantly to appeal to users in these markets.

Qualcomm has also learnt it the hard way when it comes to affordable smartphones. MediaTek ate into its market share, emerging as a close second, by offering low-cost solutions to local Chinese OEMs. In a way, Qualcomm’s reference design program was inspired by MediaTek, which provided a complete working solution to its OEM partners to hasten the process between selecting the hardware stack and going into production, without spending significant R&D dollars. Today, majority of sub-Rs 10,000 smartphones available in India from local brands run on MediaTek’s platform, while Qualcomm is just starting to emerge in that category.

San Diego-based Qualcomm does not want to repeat its mistakes considering the edge it has over 4G LTE – a technology the company developed and ensured was the prevalent 4G technology globally, delivering a death blow to rival Intel’s WiMAX standard. Rather than wait out market dynamics and bring prices down gradually, Qualcomm understands that low-cost, high volume smartphones capable of running on faster 4G LTE networks are the key to its success in countries like China and India. China is the largest smartphone market while India is the fastest growing market ready to overtake the US for the number two position. More than 67 percent of all smartphones sold in India were priced under $200 and Qualcomm claims that smartphones running on Snapdragon 410 could retail for as low as $150.

Judging from the fact that Qualcomm is now not shying away from wooing Chinese OEMs and local Indian brands, one can expect a bouquet of affordable 4G smartphones are on their way across price points and brands. Provided that Airtel and more importantly Reliance Jio Infocom, which has a pan-India 4G license, play their cards correctly with respect to pricing their 4G LTE services, the Snapdragon 410 could help them usher in a new era of faster mobile Internet connectivity in India.