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Nokia Shrugs Off Chip Problems to Double Profit in Q3 2021

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 28 October 2021

Finnish telecoms equipment maker Nokia said Thursday that it was able to double its profits in the third quarter of the current year, despite the worldwide shortage of computer chips.

Nokia said in a statement its bottom-line net profit rose by 77 percent to EUR 342 million (roughly Rs. 2,700 crore) in the period from July to September.

“The uncertainty around the global semiconductor market limits our visibility into Q4 and 2022,” said chief executive, Pekka Lundmark.

“We are working closely not only with our suppliers to ensure component availability, but also with our customers.”

Posting a 2 percent year-on-year net sales increase to EUR 5.4 billion (roughly Rs. 46,900 crore), the Finnish group reiterated its full year guidance — which it increased in June to a comparable operating margin of 10-12 percent — and said it now expects to finish the year “towards the upper end” of that bracket.

CEO Lundmark has been credited with turning around the fortunes of the networks giant, which has been flagging in the race with Sweden’s Ericsson and China’s Huawei to dominate the 5G equipment market.

After taking the helm in mid-2020 Lundmark implemented widespread job cuts, with savings funnelled into developing more competitive technology.

The group has also partly benefitted from the misfortunes of rival Ericsson, which saw as its China market share collapse when Beijing retaliated against Sweden banning Huawei from its 5G rollout.

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Snapdragon 8Gx Gen 1 Logo Leaks Prior to Qualcomm’s Big Launch

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By ANI | Updated: 27 November 2021

Just days before the big announcement on November 30, a logo for the new Qualcomm chip, Snapdragon 8Gx Gen 1, has been leaked.

According to GSMArena, the leak was spotted in a staging site for the company. The title of the page is ‘Testing icon’ and the icon in question sits beside a ‘Test123’ label.

Clearly, this is a template that is meant to be filled in with real text (that is the point of the staging site), but that hasn’t happened yet.

The name of the new flagship chipset was supposed to be ‘Snapdragon 8 Gen 1’. Qualcomm didn’t actually confirm the exact name; it just referred to “our newest flagship Snapdragon 8-series platform”. So it’s possible that the 8-series chips will actually be named ‘8Gx’.

Qualcomm already has chips named ‘8cx’, the flagship offerings for Windows-on-ARM laptops. There is also an 8c, which sits just below the 8cx, and an entry-level 7c. If ‘c’ stands for ‘computer’, what does the ‘G’ stand for?

As per GSMArena, according to the current naming scheme, some chipsets get a ‘G’ suffix to denote higher clock speeds for the GPU, e.g. the Snapdragon 765 and 765G. And the ‘x’ simply means high-end.

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Apple Warns Thai Activists ‘State-Sponsored Attackers’ May Have Targeted Their iPhone Handsets

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By Reuters | Updated: 25 November 2021

Apple issued on Wednesday alert messages to at least six Thai activists and researchers who have been critical of the government, warning it believed their iPhone handsets had been targeted by “state-sponsored attackers”, according to activists and the alerts reviewed by Reuters.

Apple and Thailand’s Digital Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prajak Kongkirati, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, said he had received two emails from Apple warning it believed his iPhone and iCloud accounts had been targeted, along with a “threat notification” on his Apple account.

Researcher Sarinee Achananuntakul and Thai activist Yingcheep Atchanont of Legal Monitoring group iLaw said they had received similar emails, while a rapper, a political activist, and a politician opposed to the government separately posted screenshots of the same email on their social media accounts.

All are perceived as being critical of the Thai government.

The messages warned “if your device is compromised by a state-sponsored attacker, they may be able to remotely access your sensitive data, communications, or even the camera and microphone.”

Apple on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Israeli cyber firm NSO Group and its parent company OSY Technologies for alleged surveillance and targeting of US Apple users with its Pegasus spyware.

In a statement on Tuesday, Apple said that the NSO group had created “state-sponsored surveillance technology” that had been aimed at “very small number of users”.

It was not immediately clear in Apple’s alerts on Wednesday whether the company believed Thais were being targeted by Pegasus.

Internet security watchdog group Citizen Lab identified in 2018 a Pegasus spyware operator active within Thailand.

Thailand’s government is still led by the architects of a 2014 coup, who remain in power after a 2019 election that its rivals say was stacked in the military’s favour.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the coup leader, has denied the claims, but has faced months of anti-government protests.

As well as calls for greater democracy, the government has also been criticised over its management of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apple Plans to Tap TSMC to Produce Its Own iPhone 5G Modems: Report

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By ANI | Updated: 24 November 2021

Apple is reportedly planning to partner with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. for the production of its own 5G modems for future iPhone devices.

According to Nikkei, Apple is said to be planning to use TSMC’s 4nm process node, which hasn’t yet been deployed for any commercial product; the modem is apparently being designed and tested at 5nm before moving to mass production in 2023 at 4nm.

Apple’s switch to modems of its own design is widely expected to happen in 2023, and TSMC is the natural manufacturing partner.

Qualcomm, which is the dominant player in the industry and produces modem components for the entire iPhone 13 lineup, recently said that it expects to account for just 20 per cent of iPhone modem orders in two years’ time.

Apple bought Intel’s 5G modem division in 2019, foreshadowing the eventual switch. Earlier that year Qualcomm and Apple agreed to end a costly modem technology patent dispute, with Qualcomm receiving more than $4 billion (roughly Rs. 29,750 crore) as part of the settlement.

TSMC is the manufacturer of all iPhone A-series processors and M1 systems-on-chip for Mac computers.

There are hundreds of TSMC engineers based in Cupertino to work with Apple’s chip development team.

2022 iPhone SoCs will reportedly use TSMC’s 4nm process, and some iPad models are said to be adopting 3nm processors in 2023.

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Samsung Picks Texas for Its New $17-Billion Chip Plant

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By Reuters | Updated: 24 November 2021

Samsung said it had picked Taylor, Texas as the location for a new $17-billion (roughly Rs. 1,26,480 crore) plant to make advanced chips for functions such as mobile, 5G, high-performance computing, and artificial intelligence.

The plant would create 2,000 high-tech jobs with construction to begin in the first half of next year, and production due to start in the second half of 2024, the South Korean tech giant said. It would also create at least 6,500 construction jobs, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said.

The world’s biggest memory chipmaker and second-largest contract chip manufacturer had also considered sites in Arizona and New York for the plant, which will be much bigger than its only other US chip plant in Austin, Texas.

The company said it chose Texas based on factors such as infrastructure stability, government support and proximity to its existing plant.

Samsung is joining rivals TSMC and Intel in the race to expand chip contract manufacturing in the United States, where the sector is seen as an area of strategic competition with China.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has promised billions of dollars in federal funding to boost chip manufacturing and research to ensure it has an edge over China in advanced technologies and to address shortages for critical industries like autos.

“Securing America’s supply chains is a top priority for President Biden and his Administration,” US National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement welcoming Samsung’s investment.

“We will continue to use every tool and pursue every avenue to invest in our sources of strength like manufacturing and technology.”

Abbott, flanked at a press conference by Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Kinam Kim and US Senator John Cornyn of Texas, said the company’s decision was a testament to Texas’s economic environment built on low taxes, reasonable regulations and robust infrastructure.

Texas last winter suffered a multi-day, widespread power outage, causing some KRW 300 billion (roughly Rs. 1,880 crore) – KRW 400 billion (roughly Rs. 2,510 crore) in damages to Samsung’s existing chip plant in Austin, Texas.

“I’m extremely confident that the power grid is stable, resilient and reliable,” Abbott said on Tuesday when asked about electricity supply for the plant.

The new site in Texas’s Williamson County, which comprises the city of Taylor, offered the best incentives package of the sites Samsung was considering, sources previously told Reuters.

National security

Senator Cornyn on Tuesday called on the Biden administration to invest more money to attract chip manufacturers to the United States, calling it a “national security imperative.”

“If China continues to saber-rattle, the majority of the world could be at their mercy when it comes to the supply of critical semiconductors,” Cornyn said.

Samsung’s Kim thanked the Biden administration for “creating an environment that supports companies like Samsung as we work to expand leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing in the US.”

“We also thank the administration and Congress for their bipartisan support to swiftly enact federal incentives for domestic chip production and innovation.”

Samsung has not specified what the new plant will make beyond advanced logic chips which can be used to power mobile devices and autonomous vehicles.

Analysts said it would likely make cutting-edge chips of 5-nanometres or less, using machines made by the Netherland’s ASML, for large clients like Qualcomm. Such chips can handle more data per area than the 14- and 28-nanometre chips Samsung’s existing US plant in Austin mainly makes.

The Taylor site, about 25 miles (40kms) from Austin, spans more than 5 million square metres, Samsung said.

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee met White House officials as well as leaders of companies including Alphabet’s Google, Amazon and Microsoft during a trip to the United States last week.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apple Sues Pegasus Spyware Maker NSO Group for Targeting Over 1 Billion iPhone Users

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 24 November 2021

Apple on Tuesday sued the Israeli spyware maker at the centre of the Pegasus surveillance scandal, seeking to block NSO Group from targeting the over one billion iPhone handsets in circulation.

The suit from the Silicon Valley giant adds to the trouble facing embattled NSO, which was engulfed in controversy over reports that tens of thousands of activists, journalists and politicians were listed as potential targets of its Pegasus spyware.

US authorities just weeks ago blacklisted NSO to restrict exports from American groups over allegations the Israel firm “enabled foreign governments to conduct transnational repression.”

“To prevent further abuse and harm to its users, Apple is also seeking a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using any Apple software, services, or devices,” Apple said in a statement announcing the lawsuit filed in US federal court in California.

“Defendants are notorious hackers — amoral 21st century mercenaries who have created highly sophisticated cyber-surveillance machinery that invites routine and flagrant abuse,” the iPhone maker wrote in its case.

NSO has consistently denied any wrongdoing and insisted its software is intended for use by authorities only in fighting terrorism and other crimes.

“Pedophiles and terrorists can freely operate in technological safe-havens, and we provide governments the lawful tools to fight it. NSO group will continue to advocate for the truth,” the firm said in a statement to AFP.

Smartphones infected with Pegasus are essentially turned into pocket spying devices, allowing the user to read the target’s messages, look through their photos, track their location and even turn on their camera without them knowing.

Apple says there are 1.65 billion active Apple devices worldwide, including over a billion iPhone devices.

‘Mercenary spyware’

The suit from Apple is not the first from a Big Tech firm — Facebook sued NSO Group in 2019, accusing it of using the WhatsApp messenger to conduct cyberespionage on journalists, human rights activists, and others.

That suit, filed in a California federal court, alleged approximately 1,400 devices were targeted with malicious software to steal valuable information from those using the messaging app.

“This can’t be good news for NSO, which is reportedly in danger of default with over $500 million (roughly Rs. 3,730 crore) in debt, a recent leadership shakeup with their CEO, and France pulling out of a planned purchase after the US sanctions,” said Jake Williams from cybersecurity firm BreachQuest.

Following the initial concern over Pegasus, a subsequent wave of worries emerged when Apple released a fix in September for a weakness allowing NSO’s spyware to infect devices without users even clicking on a malicious message or link.

The so-called “zero-click” attack is able to silently corrupt the targeted device, and was identified by researchers at Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity watchdog organisation in Canada.

Apple said Tuesday it is notifying the “small number” of users that it discovered may have been targeted by those types of attacks.

“Mercenary spyware firms like NSO Group have facilitated some of the world’s worst human rights abuses and acts of transnational repression, while enriching themselves and their investors,” said Citizen Lab director Ron Deibert.

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MediaTek Takes on Qualcomm With New Flagship SoC for Premium Android Phones

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By Reuters | Updated: 19 November 2021

MediaTek Dimensity 9000 5G smartphone chip was launched on Thursday, which the company hopes will be used in premium-priced Android smartphones, a market Qualcomm currently dominates.

The Hsinchu, Taiwan-based company said its new Dimensity 9000 chip will be the world’s first to use its manufacturing partner Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co’s “N4” chipmaking process, which helps makes chips smaller and faster. MediaTek said it will also be the first smartphone chip to feature a powerful new computing core from Arm called the Cortex-X2.

Along with Qualcomm and Samsung Electronics, MediaTek is one of only three firms in the world that makes 5G smartphone chips. The fourth major player – Huawei, which also made its own phones – was forced out of the market by US sanctions.

Huawei’s exit set off a scramble by Android smartphone makers to capture market share vacated by the Chinese brand. MediaTek already counts many of the contenders for that market share, such as Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo as customers, but many of those brands use MediaTek for their low and mid-tier devices and rely on Qualcomm for higher-end models.

David Ku, MediaTek’s chief financial officer, said the 9000 chip was the first in what will be a series of chips aimed at persuading those customers to switch to using MediaTek in their flagship devices.

“We need to have a very strong army to march into the segment,” Ku told Reuters. “One product is not enough – this is our starting point.”

MediaTek hit $10 billion (roughly Rs. 74,260 crore) in revenue for the first time last year, and Ku said it expects to hit $17 billion (roughly Rs. 1,26,240 crore) in revenue this year. He said that while 4G smartphone chips sometimes sold for $10 (roughly Rs. 740), 5G chips can sell for $30 (roughly Rs. 2,230) to even $50 (roughly Rs. 3,710).

“The No. 1 driving factor is really the much higher (average selling price) due to the 4G to 5G transition,” Ku said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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