The launch of the first wave of 5G commercial services has been crowned a great success, with credit going to Qualcomm and its partners for the impressive milestones they have managed to achieve with 5G just 6 months after the first commercial launch of enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) services. They have rolled out 30+ 5G networks around the world, supported by 20+ device models, the majority of which are powered by Qualcomm chipsets. This is worthy of a well-deserved celebration during the Qualcomm 5G Summit this week.
During this year’s 5G Summit, Qualcomm is expected to provide guidance on what is coming next for 5G and how the industry should organize to capitalize on opportunities created by the technology. I had the pleasure of attending Qualcomm’s 5G Workshop in San Diego last month, which was an eye opener for me as to what can be done with 5G. This blog offers some key takeaways I picked up from this workshop and provides a good taste of what Qualcomm will share this week regarding its 5G strategy looking forward.
Modem-RF System-Level Innovation Matters for Mobile Devices
While there is still room for innovation related to the modem and Radio Frequency (RF) components, with the addition of new features and support for more bands, the next wave of innovation will certainly come from the system-level design. The system-level design helps increase the overall device performance, lower the device power consumption, optimize the overall silicon footprint, and accelerate time-to-market for technology innovation. Most importantly, it dramatically simplifies the technology complexity for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), allowing them to focus more on what they are best at: integrating new features, enhancing experiences, and innovating on the device form factor in a timely fashion.
5G for eMBB Will Be Mainstream Across All Market Segments in 2021
In 2020, 5G will dominate the premium smartphone segment and will find its way to the mid-range segment of the market, thanks to the emergence of 5G reference designs from companies including Qualcomm, MediaTek, and UNISOC. This week, Qualcomm will detail its plans for bringing 5G to lower-tier smartphones. The company will reiterate its commitment to democratize 5G by integrating the technology into its Snapdragon 7 and 6 series by 2020. Most importantly, the company will emphasize the importance of system-level designs in accelerating the expansion of 5G across market tiers at unprecedented speeds. While rivals MediaTek and UNISOC will base their reference designs on RF components procured from various suppliers, Qualcomm is the only company able to produce end-to-end system designs from the antenna to the modem using in-house components. This is a significant advantage, as it enables Qualcomm to be ahead of the curve in bringing new 5G features to the market, while accelerating the penetration of the technology in the lower-tier segments of the market. At this speed, ABI Research anticipates that almost one-third of total smartphones shipped in 2021 will be powered by 5G technology.
mmWave Technology Is Here to Thrive
There are misconceptions that Millimeter Wave (mmWave) performance degrades massively when the device is not in line-of-sight with an access point or when it is far away from one. Although this is true in theory, this is nowhere as dramatic as it is portrayed by some industry observers. Qualcomm already demonstrated this in numerous occasions and will do so again this week. Last month, a few analysts and I had the chance to track the performance of mmWave throughput on a Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G, powered by a Qualcomm X50 modem and connected to a Verizon mmWave small cell located at Qualcomm’s headquarters. After several extreme tests, such as moving far away from the access point, even with a few walls in between, the downlink bandwidth was consistently measured at 2 Gigabits per Second (Gbps). So, mmWave’s performance is not a barrier to the technology adoption and Qualcomm will demonstrate this to its audience at this week’s 5G Summit once again.
However, there are still other challenges facing the wide adoption of mmWave technology, including spectrum availability in some regions, including Europe and parts of Asia-Pacific. Another challenge would be the increased infrastructure cost because the technology may require higher density implementation compared to existing technologies (e.g., new sites, new backhaul systems, etc.), which may not be justified, particularly in less populated regions.
Small Cells Are Key in Qualcomm’s Product Portfolio
Qualcomm is expected to highlight the importance of small cells in shaping 5G networks, mainly for enterprise applications. You may know Qualcomm as the leading supplier of mobile device chipsets through its Snapdragon flagship product, but what you probably do not know is that Qualcomm is also a supplier of chipsets for small cells, with its FSM9016 shipping since early 2019, and the company will be shipping its first 5G small cell chip in 2020. Qualcomm’s small cells are packed with new features, such as support for a broad range of frequencies from mmWave to sub-6 Gigahertz (GHz) across licenced and unlicensed spectrums. Qualcomm’s small cells can also support cellular-Wi-Fi convergence, spatial diversity, interference management, intelligent radio resource management, and edge Artificial Intelligence (AI), making them desirable to address a number of innovative use cases for both consumer and enterprise applications. Qualcomm will demo all of these features and will show why they are so important for the next phase of 5G market development.
Qualcomm Is Ready for 5G Industrial Applications
Proofs of concept (PoCs) are critical to Qualcomm’s strategy. Remember when Qualcomm unveiled its 5G smartphone concept in October 2016, almost 3 years ahead of any commercial deployment? Qualcomm is capitalizing on this today as the main driver behind the launch of the first wave of 5G commercial services targeting eMBB applications.
Qualcomm is following a similar strategy for the enterprise market. So, expect the company to focus its message on promoting 5G applications in the enterprise market and prove the case and value proposition of 5G across various industries. To prepare for this, Qualcomm has transformed an entire building located at its headquarters into a demo zone showing dozens of PoCs use cases for 5G across a number of verticals, including industrial manufacturing, retail outlets, logistics and warehousing, entertainment, autonomous driving, smart transportation, etc. When you see these demos, you come up with a single conclusion: there is no doubt that Qualcomm is ready for this new phase in 5G market development and will again be a key driver in bringing 5G commercial deployments to the enterprise market in 2022 or soon thereafter.
Qualcomm’s Technologies Are Not Just About Increased Bandwidth and Low Latency
Now that Qualcomm is an unrivalled leader in the 5G deployment for eMBB applications, Qualcomm will introduce and showcase the value proposition of a number of features that will be essential for 5G industrial applications, including Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X), private networks scenarios, time-sensitive networking, dynamic spectrum sharing, 5G positioning, RF sensing, distributed intelligence, special diversity, and deterministic networks.
Optimization and Testing in Real-Life Conditions Key for Any Successful Product Creation
A couple of other analysts and I had the privilege of taking a guided tour of the rooftop of Qualcomm’s headquarters building where it has installed a 3.5 GHz massive Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MIMO) base station site with 256 antennas capable of delivering up to 64 RF paths across the city of San Diego. The installation serves as 5G New Radio (NR) PoC and has been used to create, optimize, and test Qualcomm modems and RF solutions with the first-generation Snapdragon X50/X55. Apart from captive vendors, no other chipset supplier has similar infrastructure, which gives a clear advantage to Qualcomm in leading 5G modem and RF innovation. Building its own networks is already key for the company to generate PoCs for next-generation 5G features, take the lead in the standards specifications, and help its key partners among other Mobile Service Providers (MSPs) to optimize their networks for enhanced performance.
Key Takeaways and Conclusions
Qualcomm has played an instrumental role in pushing the 5G agenda forward and will continue to play a crucial role in the development of the next waves of 5G development. It managed to bring key industry players together to specify the first wave of The 3rd Generation Public Partnership (3GPP) 5G standards based on non-standalone NR, targeting eMBB applications. It has demonstrated the first smartphone concept 3 years ahead of competition, which has given the industry a huge boost and clear visibility on when and how 5G should be implemented. Today, the majority of 5G smartphones are powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon technology when most of Qualcomm’s rivals are a year away from launching their commercial products.
In a similar fashion, Qualcomm will start to prepare the world for the next wave of 5G development based on standalone NR, which will focus predominantly on enterprise verticals. This week’s 5G Summit will kickstart this new era. Qualcomm is expected to show use cases and PoCs associated with a number of milestone technologies likely to shape industrial 5G applications, spatial diversity technologies, such as Coordinate MultiPoint(CoMP), and Multi-Transmission and Reception Points (MTRPs) that are essential for deterministic networks, 5G positioning, device-to-device communications, shared spectrum technologies, edge technologies, distributed intelligence, RF sensing, etc. While Qualcomm’s rivals are talking about these features, the company will provide concrete guidance on how these features will be integrated in real-life use cases and when the industry should expect to see Qualcomm’s implementations in commercial applications.