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4 December 2019

MediaTek unveils first 5G system-on-chip, promises smartphone comeback

MediaTek recently announced an alliance with Intel, to provide the US firm with 5G modems, now that Intel has all but quit that market itself. The family of system-on-chip (SoC) products at the heart of this deal – and of MediaTek’s bid to stage a comeback against Qualcomm in the smartphone sector – is called Dimensity.

The first family under this brand name is Dimensity 1000, which offers an SoC with integrated 5G modem. This is MediaTek’s first 7-nanometer product and it should come to market before year end.

The chip supports two-carrier aggregation for 5G, and is the first to enable dual 5G SIM technology. MediaTek claims world-beating downlink speeds of 4.7Gbps on sub-6 GHz networks, with 2.5Gbps uplink, and the product also integrates WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1+.

The chip is based on four ARM Cortex-A77 cores operating at up to 2.6 GHz, with four ARM Cortex-A55 cores operating at up to 2 GHz, in order to balance performance and power efficiency. The SOC also includes an ARM Mali-G77 graphics processing unit (GPU), and a new AI processing unit, the APU 3.0, designed by MediaTek.

MediaTek claims its modem is smaller and more power efficient than those of competitors, but of course it is late to market compared to Qualcomm, which dominated 5G trials as usual, and saw off Intel before the larger firm could fully commercialize its once-promising 5G products. In recent years, MediaTek has lost ground in the smartphone chip market, and has refocused many efforts on other devices such as set-top box and IoT semiconductors. It now pledges that its 5G chip will put it back in the running with Qualcomm.

Tirias Research analyst Jim McGregor told EETimes: “They are a bit late to the party, but they are still ahead of Apple. It is good that the modem will be integrated into the chip. Qualcomm will still have a discrete modem for its highest tier for the upcoming generation.” However, MediaTek does not support mmWave in this modem generation – though that will not be a serious issue in the first phase, when it is mainly targeting Greater China, a region where mmWave is not on the short term agenda.