Qualcomm has announced a new line of SoCs designed to keep earbuds low power and in a smaller form factor.

This year at CES, Qualcomm has announced their QCC5100 series of SoC devices, geared towards low power audio. So what does this series of SoCs do and how will it help the industry?


Prototype earbuds featuring Qualcomm's new SoC


A New SoC

In recent years, wireless in-ear Bluetooth earbuds have become increasingly popular thanks to the inclusion of Bluetooth in most phones/portable music players, as well as the obvious lack of wires to tangle with.

For such a system to work, it requires a Bluetooth receiver, audio processor, battery, and speaker—which is why such in-ear earbuds can be bulkier than we'd like. With power systems improving and speakers getting smaller, as well, there is no reason why the controller shouldn't also be getting more efficient. This is where Qualcomm has stepped in with their new QCC5100 range of SoCs which are being aimed at the in-ear market.


Power Is the Key

When it comes to powering an in-ear earbud (or any wireless device for that matter), a small power supply is needed. Unfortunately, the smaller a battery gets then so does their charge holding capacity. In other words, the smaller a battery gets the less it can power (or power for a shorter time). So if the next generation of in-ear devices is required to be 25% smaller, then so will be the internal components. And unless a new battery has been developed to be both smaller and more powerful, then you can expect the in-ear device to run out of charge more quickly than its predecessor.

This is where the Qualcomm QCC5100 range comes in. In an improvement upon existing single-chip Bluetooth solutions, the new range of devices has been engineered to use up to 65% less energy. Such a reduction in energy consumption implies that a battery could be reduced to up to 65% in size and the in-ear device would operate for just as long.


Qualcomm Incorporated President Cristiano Amon at CES 2018


Low Power, High Functionality

The Qualcomm QCC5100 range is ambitious. It doesn't just purport to improve on energy consumption. The new SoC devices also contain a lot of functionality and features, including a quad-core processor, dual DSP architecture, and smooth transitioning of functions. The QCC5100 SoC devices also support advanced features including Qualcomm® TrueWireless™ Stereo, Qualcomm® aptX™ HD audio, Integrated Hybrid Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and third-party voice assistant services.

So what are some of the technical specifications of this new Bluetooth SoC?

  • Supports Bluetooth 5
  • MCU clock speed of 32MHz to 80MHz
  • Dual DSP clock speed of up to 2 x 120MHz
  • 2 Channel, Analog Line, Analog Headphone, SPDIF Digital, and I2S

Considering that such a SoC has been designed with compact in-ear products in mind, you would hope that the IC is housed in a small outline. True to expectation, Qualcomm offers the QCC5120 SoC in a 6.5mm x 6.5mm x 0.5mm BGA124 package while the QCC5121 is available in a 4.1mm x 4.1mm x 0.4mm WLCSP81 package.

It's difficult to escape from Alexa, Cortana, and Google Voice Assistant this year. After all, voice recognition is one of the biggest trends of CES this year (much like last year)—and Qualcomm apparently doesn't want to be left behind. As such, they've also included hints about a voice-activated wake-up function which helps with both reducing power consumption and enabling voice detection.


When Can We Expect the QCC5100?

According to Qualcomm, examples can be excepted in the second quarter of 2018, so there is still a bit of a wait. Considering the chipset's low-power features (that reportedly still retain quality), as well as on-trend capabilities, it can be expected that manufacturers of in-ear earbuds will be anticipating the new SoC as they try to develop ever-smaller in-ear devices.