Battery life, cameras and LTE will most likely dominate the smartphone design this year.

The common perception about the Mobile World Congress (MWC) show in Barcelona, Spain is that it's all about smartphones and the key technologies they are going to drive. For instance, in 2016, 5G networks, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, deep learning and virtual reality will be emphasized. But it's also a key venue to gauge the workhorse that drives these portable monsters: mobile processors.

The mobile system-on-chip (SoC) announcements at the MWC 2016 floor clearly underscore three key trends: battery life, camera power and multiple flavors of LTE technology. Take the case of MediaTek's Helio P20 mobile chipset that the Hsinchu, Taiwan–based firm claims to be the first SoC featuring the low power double data rate random access memory or LPDDR4X.


First mobile SoC to support LPDDR4X memory


Samsung's LPDDR4X memory technology boasts 70 percent more bandwidth than the predecessor LPDDR3 as well as 50 percent more energy efficiency by lowering supply voltage to 0.6 volts. So it facilitates longer battery life and better user experience for the camera, video, and gaming applications. Overall, the Helio P20 chipset claims 25 percent higher power efficiency also because it's built on TSMC's 16nm FinFET Plus (16FF+) process.

The fact that smartphone manufacturers are placing high importance on battery life and camera features is also apparent from Spreadtrum's 64-bit octa-core LTE chipset unveiled at the MWC 2016 show. The SC 9068 mobile SoC—also embedding eight Cortex-A53 CPU cores like MediaTek's Helio P20 and built on TSMC's 16nm FFC process—claims more power savings than earlier chipsets built on 20nm and 28nm processing nodes.


Camera Envy

Both mobile chipsets are using ARM's latest Mali T880 GPU offering to ensure support for 4K content and graphic-intensive video and gaming apps. Moreover, these smartphone SoCs incorporate image signal processors (ISPs) to support powerful cameras and cutting-edge technologies like virtual reality.

MediaTek's 12-bit dual ISP—called Imagiq—supports Bayer and Mono sensors and captures nearly three times more light than the conventional image sensors. Another prominent feature is dual-phase detection autofocus that facilitates real-time autofocus that is four times faster than traditional imaging systems. Then, there is multi-scale temporal de-noising capability that elevates image quality by reducing noise and rendering photos and videos more accurately.

Smartphone in 2016: it's all about camera

Likewise, Spreadtrum's mobile processor, equipped with three ISPs, boasts the 26Mpixel camera, 3D image capture, and real-time rear and front camera-based capture and record capabilities. Furthermore, the chipset features 2560 x 1600 WQXGA display and HEVC hardware for ultra HD 4K2K video record and playback.


LTE Flavors

The LTE wireless networks are a moving target and meeting this frantic development cycle is no small feat for the mobile SoC firms. The SC9068 chipset from Shanghai, China–based Spreadtrum features the peak data speed of 300 Mbit/s in downlink and 100 Mbit/s in the uplink while supporting two-way carrier aggregation and hybrid TDD/FDD network with LTE Category 7 modem.


3G chipmaker Spreadtrum forays into LTE market


Spreadtrum's LTE chipset employs DSPs from CEVA to carry out multiple signal-processing workloads for Category 7 baseband, audio, and voice, and sensor fusion. On the other hand, MediaTek's Helio P20 processor offers download speeds of up to 300 Mbit/s and upload speeds of up to 50 Mbit/s, respectively, while featuring WorldMode Category 6 modem and 2x20 carrier aggregation.

MediaTek's new mobile SoC also supports dual-SIM dual standby feature to ensure that, if GSM connection isn't available in a specific area, the chip can activate 3G network based on the W-CDMA technology. Next, it supports LTE multimedia broadcast and multicast service to allow mobile users to receive HD video content over LTE networks.