In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Rami Osman, director for business development at MediaTek Middle East and Africa, shares insights on how his company is navigating a consumer-centric 5G market in the region.
Can you please talk about your commitment to drive 5G adoption and futuristic technologies in the Middle Eastern African region?
5G adoption needs availability, and it's in our interest to increase its adoption. So, we have to work with regulators, the government, infrastructure companies and telecom operators to increase the adoption of 5G in the region. Besides, the 5G adoption is quite good in the Middle East, especially the GCC. In other parts of the Middle East and most of Africa, it's still below the world average regarding 5G availability. What we do from our side is show the parties that are relevant to this discussion — what's at stake — and it's a circle of lack of development that we have to break in some parts of the emerging market. They need access to development, but because they still need to be developed, they cannot pay for the access, and the governments are the best ones to address this challenge. There have been some pockets of enlightenment in some African countries recently, where the governments are thinking outside the box on how to bring 5G infrastructure sharing, leasing and other ideas. Because 3G and 4G were very expensive, especially when the output in Africa is low, some governments are starting to understand the same. And most of the telcos are multinationals that are driven very shrewdly by profit. If these 5G New Business Models prove successful, you will suddenly see that the adoption is much higher. The most effective smartphone is the Samsung A14, which uses our chipset, and we keep investing in the entry-level 5G solutions. Regarding the routers, we are also the world's largest supplier of the 5G CPE and keep trying to reduce costs. Once the network is there in terms of IoT, smartphones and connectivity, MediaTek will be ready with a good proposition for the emerging markets. We understand emerging markets very well, as we work with very price-driven customers.
What is the importance of collaborating with OEMs, ODMs and telecom operators across industries, and how will this impact MediaTek’s endeavors in this region?
MediaTek is an engineering company, and we market our products focusing on value. And that's why we have a huge market share. Companies such as Samsung, Oppo, Tecno, Xiaomi, Skyworth, and ZTE use the MediaTek chipset because they are getting value from MediaTek. We also study the end consumers, but mostly, our service is to the OEMs and ODMs. We depend on them to understand their markets and excel in two things: R&D and productization, because R&D and wrong productization are wasted efforts in a very sensitive market. The COVID pandemic gave us a lesson in good planning because you could lose money or opportunity, and we don't want to lose either of them. And that makes us cooperate very closely with the OEMs. We supply almost every electronics company in the world with some product or another, with 100% commitment. This is for a simple reason: if they succeed, we succeed.
In terms of the AI revolution that is currently taking place, how is MediaTek involved in this development, particularly in advancing AI capabilities at the edge?
MediaTek is a technology company that provides hardware solutions that run operating systems and software. We are doing this in a two-fold manner: firstly, beefing up the APUs — what's called the AI APU on the SoC. So, the AI system, the CPU system, the GPU system and the 5G system are all on the same chip. We want to develop the AI APU on that chipset to be able to run the most advanced large language models. Recently, we announced that we had completed the integration with Meta's Llama 2, which means developers who want to run some APIs from Meta's library can use the software kit of MediaTek to do that. This may save them time and energy instead of using regular CPU programming. We will work with the other platform owners, and we need to be on the edge of development; therefore, we're looking forward to the development and bringing more Generative AI to the client. It's still a work in progress. Currently, it's all pilots on the cloud; therefore, nobody is paying for it. It would be great if MediaTek or another chipset company could give them some of the workload done. The clouds will have a price in the future, but we need to convince people to upgrade their smartphones. So, every year, we have a challenge to add more value and add more on the client side. AI is the challenge for the coming few years.
What do you think will be the key drivers for next-generation connectivity, and how will semiconductor companies such as MediaTek take advantage of these opportunities?
5G is already here, and “connectivity” is a big word around it. It can be broken down into fixed broadband, wireless broadband and Wi-Fi. In fixed broadband for the emerging markets, we are moving from DSL to optical markets, and this continues. We supply DSL chipsets. We supply GPON chipsets. And we supply the Wi-Fi chipset. So, we are in a good position, and MediaTek is the world's largest supplier in these three categories. In wireless broadband, in some places, there are no fixed infrastructures, and that's where you give them a 5G CPE — we have the 5G modem chipset and we have the Wi-Fi chipset. So again, we are very well integrated and positioned for wireless. Now the Wi-Fi generation is moving from Wi-Fi 5 to Wi-Fi 6 and now Wi-Fi 7. So, the next era of connectivity is Wi-Fi 7. We started to see some high-end TVs, like the Samsung 8K, using the MediaTek chipset, and Vivo X90 Pro had the Wi-Fi 7. Therefore, different markets have different connectivity needs. We are lucky to have the complete portfolios from a legacy DSL chipset with Wi-Fi 5 to the highest end, which we call 3NR (three carrier aggregations in the new radio in 5G and Wi-Fi 7), and it's all in mass production.
From your perspective, which market segments will demand more from next-generation connectivity?
Consumers are always hungry and take the quality of service like 4K at home for granted. Initially, we used to say there was no need for it, but now we've gotten used to 4K. Even the cameras on laptops or iPads are enhanced, so everything is captured in higher resolution, and thus, the consumer is benefiting from this. While some people only think from a throughput perspective, latency is also important for gaming and coverage. Coverage becomes important, especially if you live in a townhouse or a villa, and we need help figuring out how Wi-Fi works, where to put the Wi-Fi router and all that stuff. So, Wi-Fi 6 already has a lot of advantages over Wi-Fi 5, like beamforming more directional kinds of coverage.