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Exynos 980 Integrates 5G Modem

October 8, 2019

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

Samsung’s first mobile processor to integrate a 5G modem potentially reduces the system cost and power consumption of mid-premium smartphones for emerging cellular networks. The Exynos 980 5G can deliver downlinks of 2,550Mbps and uplinks of 1,280Mbps by operating in 5G radio bands below 6.0GHz (“sub-6”). It’s the first processor to employ Arm’s new Cortex-A77, and it adds a fast neural engine and an 802.11ax baseband for compatibility with the latest Wi-Fi 6 networks. The Exynos 980 surpasses the Exynos 7885 mid-premium LTE processor and introduces new three-digit part numbers to the family.

Mid-premium LTE phones sell for $300–$500. The Exynos 980 targets regions that are rolling out their 5G networks in the sub-6 bands, including Korea, China, and Europe. Sprint is the only compatible U.S. operator. The other U.S. majors—AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon—are deploying higher-frequency millimeter-wave (mmWave) technology.

Samsung plans to start volume production by year end, so the first phones could appear as early as 1Q20. Employing Arm’s familiar “Big.Little” configuration, the Exynos 980 upgrades the big CPUs to dual Cortex-A77s. To conserve power, six Cortex-A55 “little” CPUs handle lighter workloads while the big ones slow down or sleep. Samsung claims the integrated neural engine is 2.5x faster than the proprietary design in the high-end Exynos 9820.

Since introducing its first 5G phones (using nonintegrated processors) in April, the company claims to have sold more than two million 5G phones and expects sales to reach four million by the end of this year. Mid-premium phones with integrated 5G modems won’t threaten premium smartphones that offer faster 5G speeds and other fancy features, but they will reach the only handset segment still showing growth potential. Also, more affordable 5G phones pressure network operators to accelerate their 5G base-station deployments, which eventually benefits all price tiers.

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