Qualcomm's CEO, Steve Mollenkopf, recently said that the company remains confident that its focused investments in 5G will create a strong foundation for long term earnings growth. Qualcomm Technologies plays a leading role in the journey to 5G. In October 2016, the company announced the industry's first 5G modem - the Snapdragon X50 - at the Qualcomm 4G/5G Summit in Hong Kong. Qualcomm prides itself on being a wireless technology leader, which is at the very heart of its identity. The chipset maker's inventions have pushed the boundaries of wireless technology for decades. Speaking to Telecom Review, Jay Srage, president MEA and East Europe at Qualcomm, spoke about the company's 5G vision and journey.
"If you look at the market today, all of the players are facing the issue of being what we call 'between G's'. 4G was implemented in 2013-2014, while 5G is considered in the 2018-2020 timeframe. There is a large time-gap between 4G and 5G. What we [Qualcomm] have done in the past is establish a strong foundation on the development of the 3G and 4G platforms and their revenue-base," Srage told Telecom Review.
"In parallel, we started building up the IoT and automotive businesses which serve as the growth platforms for the next generation mobile. In time, 5G deployment is going to continue to drive our earnings growth moving forward. We have been able to drive revenue growth on the 4G side in the first half of the decade, from adjacent segments on top of 4G in the second half of the decade, and we expect to continue that revenue growth with 5G beyond 2020."
For 5G to become commercially available, standardization of the technology is crucial. Qualcomm plays a significant role in contributing to the standardization process through the3GPP which is the "driving force behind the standardization of 5G technology," says Srage. Just like the industry went through with 3G and 4G, the same standardization process will be applied to 5G.
3GPP was created in December 1998 by the signing of the the 3rd Generation Partnership Project Agreement. The 3GPP Scope and Objectives document has since evolved from this original agreement to include 4G and 5G. The 3GPP timeline is critically important for setting the clock on commercial launches of 5G networks with standards-compliant 5G infrastructure and devices.
"Our involvement is quite active, and we are working with the industry to drive the best technology forward to initiate this evolution," Srage explained. "We want to bring the perspective of scale because now we are going to have billions of devices attached to the network. Security is a big challenge because once you have all of these devices connected, there is a higher chance of breaches, and that's where we need to make sure that the security platform is strong. All of this is the driving force behind defining what the technology can do. First, we want to define the platform we want to implement and 3GPP is the best avenue to drive that standardization."
Qualcomm is a hub of 5G innovation, pushing the boundaries of LTE, collaborating with industry leaders and spearheading the research efforts that will create the next global wireless standard. Looking at the mobility aspect of the company, Qualcomm is striving towards the development of 5G chipsets. Qualcomm recently announced the Snapdragon X50, which is the first commercial 5G chipset that will be available for early commercial deployment in the mid-2018 timeframe.
"This will allow for the acceleration of the development of infrastructure, the ecosystem application developers and the vertical segments in terms of smart cities, allowing them to have practical testing environment of their applications and products," Srage said. "What we are going to bring is the platform for which they can go from simply presenting and talking about plans for 5G to an actual platform for testing and development."
The Snapdragon X50 5G modem is a remarkable milestone in and of itself. But its capabilities are even more impressive. It's engineered to support unprecedented download speeds of up to 5Gbps, according to Qualcomm. It is designed to achieve these breathtaking speeds by utilizing very wide bandwidths available in the 28 GHz millimeter wave (mmWave) band combined with advanced signal processing technologies.
In terms of barriers facing Qualcomm with the successful rollout of 5G, while the industry is moving toward 5G evolution, Srage pointed out that it is quite different from the ecosystem around 4G. Today, 4G represents the connectivity of people to information, he explained. When you look at 5G, it will be the connectivity of people, devices and everything to everything.
"Example applications include V2X which is vehicle to everything communication. Vehicle to vehicle will prevent collisions and other safety purposes, vehicle to traffic lights will manage traffic, and vehicle to pedestrians will prevent harmful incidents," said Srage.
"These communication platforms will require a tremendous amount of data in terms of connectivity. Other applications would be in smart grids, smart utilities and waste management. There are many vertically integrated industries that will lean towards this connectivity and that will require massive scale to be able to take on the huge number of connected devices."
This all falls under Qualcomm's commitment to smart cities. On the healthcare side, Qualcomm has a dedicated business unit called Qualcomm Life that provides connected health solutions though the 2net hub. The idea is to have a gateway in your house that can connect all of the sensors and monitors that are associated with your health and regiment, Srage explained. This will then be connected to hospitals and doctors for continuous monitoring to take action if required. From that perspective, Qualcomm hopes to continue building relations with insurance companies, hospitals and network operators to offer these types of solutions to the marketplace.
"Other areas will be driven by the 5G platform infrastructure, which will be the enabler for all of these industries to grow. The platform will, for example, drive connected automotive as well as connected healthcare under the umbrella of IoT," said Srage. "It will enable so many of these smart city elements. The bad news goes back to barriers, such as the need for a standardized version to bring all of these industries together on a single platform to be able to make that communication seamless."
Looking ahead, Srage believes that commercial availability of 5G will likely be 2020 or earlier. Early trials and initial deployments will begin in the middle of 2018, he said. Therefore, 5G deployments could start as early as the second half of 2018 - driving towards commercial availability for mainstream consumers around 2020. "A lot of preparation is required until then and we will work diligently with our customers to achieve that goal."