Counterpoint Conversations: Qualcomm Powering Sustainability with On-device AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly becoming a ubiquitous technology. However, a major downside is that AI processing in the cloud requires a massive amount of power. In this regard, on-device AI can be a boon for sustainability as it processes data directly on a device, which translates into less energy consumption and a smaller carbon footprint. Qualcomm is already focusing on on-device AI, energy-efficient chipsets, and collaborating across industries to promote sustainable practices. At MWC 2024, Jan Stryjak, Research Director at Counterpoint Research had a quick chat with Angela Baker, Qualcomm’s Chief Sustainability Officer on the company’s sustainability efforts and initiatives in this area.

The Interview

Key takeaways from the discussion:

On-device AI for efficiency:

On-device AI processing is a key driver for sustainability.
• Energy consumption can be reduced by processing data on the device, rather than sending it to the cloud.
• Qualcomm is already researching to quantify these efficiency gains.

5G for efficiency across industries:

• Beyond smartphones, various industries can benefit from Qualcomm’s tech.
5G is a good example as it is 90% more efficient than 4G networks.
• It can improve efficiency in agriculture, manufacturing, and connected vehicles.
• With future generations like 6G, Qualcomm will focus on building even more energy-efficient networks.

Balancing sustainability with growth:

• It is always a challenge to align business practices of selling new devices versus promoting sustainability.
• Qualcomm is addressing this by extending software updates for IoT devices (8-10 years).
• Qualcomm is also diversifying into new markets like automotive and IoT.

Adapting to regulations:

• New regulations around sustainability reporting (e.g. CSRD in Europe) are driving Qualcomm’s efforts.
• Qualcomm is conducting a double materiality assessment to align its ESG reporting with the financial strategy.

Analyst Takeaways:

• Qualcomm is at the forefront of AI innovation, and its key messages at MWC were around on-device AI, energy-efficient chipsets, and collaborating across industries to promote sustainable practices.
• There are two key questions around sustainability for tech companies in the AI era. The first is how to improve or even maintain energy efficiency given the vast requirements of 5G networks and AI processors. The second is how to balance sustainability (for example, by increasing device durability) with business growth (for example, through the sale of more devices).
• Qualcomm has a good answer to the first: 5G is more efficient than 4G, and combined with AI, it can bring about efficiency improvements in other sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and connected vehicles, not just the mobile space. As for balancing sustainability versus growth, this is much more of a challenge, but diversification into new markets like automotive and IoT can help.
• To become truly sustainable, companies need to ingrain their eco targets into their business KPIs and not just a part of marketing or CSR/ESG reporting. Qualcomm is doing this better than many other companies, as sustainability appears to be more tightly aligned with the company’s goals and business models.

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