Qualcomm shows off 4K LTE Streaming Adapter dongle

The killer app for digital signage with a Snapdragon 800+

Qualcomm Snapdragon logoLast week Qualcomm had a 4K video event and the highlight was a new dongle called the 4K Stream Adapter. In case you can’t figure out what it does, it streams 4K video to a monitor to display.

If you are thinking the 4K Stream Adapter (4SA) is a Miracast adapter upgraded for the 4K/HDMI2.0 world, you would be wrong. In this case, the 4SA is not just a dumb adapter that streams video from a ‘smart’ device, it is a smart device. In a dongle. In fact the 4SA is a full Snapdragon 800+ bearing cell phone, sans screen, that happens to look a lot like a Miracast dongle.

Qualcomm 4K Streaming Adapter prototypes

Old below the new in the 4SA prototype world

Yes the 4SA has full 4G capabilities and it can pull down content from the net over cell networks not just Wi-Fi. Not only that, it can pull down, decode, and send out over HDMI full 4K streams but the name probably gave that away. In short it is full a plug and play device, pun intended. The two versions above are the final prototype on top of earlier versions, the USB cable is used only for power.

If you are wondering what the point of having a device like this is, rest assured it is not oriented at the home user as a trojan to jack up cell bills to absurd degrees. In fact it is unlikely to be aimed at the home user at all even though that might seem like the obvious use case. For home users, a dumb dongle that streams across far lower cost per bit carriers is a much better and cheaper fit for them.

While Qualcomm didn’t say what the 4SA is meant for, it seems pretty obviously aimed at digital signage. If you have a panel you want to put in a remote location to display whatever your digital signage needs call for, this is your golden ticket. OK, it is your bright red ticket, one that saves you from having to wire up ethernet or Wi-Fi to remote locations. For the home user, sending video and animations over cell networks is a costly dealbreaker, for most signage users, it can make a location viable where it was not in the past.

Then again even for the high value digital signage location, streaming 4K video over cell is still a painfully expensive affair, one might even call it a deal breaker. How does Qualcomm expect anyone to pick up the reference design in light of this? Two things, the first is that the 4SA is a full smart device that runs Android or whatever embedded OS the OEM wants. It is smart and can easily cache data. You can upload a loop to it and have it repeat all day long, just like digital signage is wont to do.

That means you can send a few minutes of content and get a day’s worth of whatever out of it, or more likely a windowed video at far lower rez with crawling text and static picture. Think HTML pages and the like. In this case while the 4SA is fully capable of 4K video streaming, it is much more likely to be used for 4K text and static pictures with a little video. This still is a very expensive proposition to do over a cell network, after a year or three of operation those data charges will more than equal the cost of wiring up a PoE line to most civilized areas.

Enter Qualcomm’s killer app, LTE Broadcast. If you have a lot of digital signage, you can cut a deal with a carrier to push the next day’s content out at low usage times at a low cost. Pushing out the data in one chunk to all locations in a cell may sound silly but also remember the 4SA is a smart adapter, it can sort out what it needs to show and pull it from a blob of uploaded content. Since the 4SA has a full Snapdragon 800+, it should also have GPS so a clever OEM could use this to lessen configuration. Think along the lines of, “If you are in stadium XYZ, show content ABC. If you are in mall 123, show content 789.” Also don’t forget that the 4SA can literally phone home too, and send its exact location back to base.

With LTE Broadcast, a bit of clever programming, and a few expensive lunches with a carrier’s sales agent, the 4SA becomes a potential killer app for digital signage. How it is configured, software uploads, and storage is an OEM concern, Qualcomm just provides a not quite simple reference design. With a little cleverness, the 4SA could be a very simple to install, configure, and manage device, if an enterprise can manage employee BYOD phones, these should be a piece of bright red cake. Expect big things from productized 4K Stream Adapters. Even if you never notice one, you are guaranteed to see their work in a few months. This form factor is the next big thing in the signage market and Qualcomm is already there.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate