Qualcomm takes a lead to make 5G a reality by 2019

Qualcomm’s 4G5G Summit in Hong Kong showcased significant progress which takes us closer to the commercialization of 5G. The summit stressed on addressing the issue of increasing spectrum band complexity (refer Image 1) and rising bandwidth demand, which makes 5G-NR the ideal solution to all these issues. The event addressed technology related apprehensions of the mobile OEMs as well as network operators. In case of mobile handset OEMs, Qualcomm addressed the apprehensions regarding the technological challenges of getting mmWave into the smartphone form factor, while Qualcomm also highlighted that the network operators will get significant coverage of mmWave from existing infrastructure of access points without deploying new sites.

5G is coming earlier than expected

The event witnessed support from all sections of the industry including telecom operators, mobile device, automotive OEMs, and other players. Most importantly, all of them now have a clear roadmap with a common goal of 5G deployment by 2019-2020. Korea Telecom (KT) is looking at early deployment by 2018 Winter Olympics. while. Initially, KT deploy 5G service on major expressways across PyeongChang, while full commercialized of services will happen in 2019. Therefore, considering the plans shared by global telecom operators and progress made by Qualcomm, 5G may become a reality sooner than we think.

The 5G modem chip is almost ready – a live 5G smartphone was showcased

Qualcomm showcased a working 5G smartphone model which uses its’ latest Snapdragon X50 5G NR modem chipset (with size between dime and a nickel, refer Image 2) for mobile devices, while attaining gigabit speed across the 28GHz mmWave frequency band. It also shared plans to conduct 5G NR trials along with Verizon, using mmWave spectrum. Initially, the two companies will focus on achieving multi-gigabite/second data rate in the 28GHz and 39GHz spectrum band in field trials. However, the company aims to deliver a common 5G-NR mmWave technology platform for mobile as well as home broadband, in long-term. Apart from the progress in chipset, a real working live 5G smartphone which uses both the OFDM based and mmWave communications was also showcased. The prototype puts an end to all discussions related to hardware challenges to make a commercial 5G smartphone which fits into the existing smartphone form factor. The achievement is a significant progress within the industry as the prototype will enable early testing and deployment of 5G.

Major operators are aggressive

Taking the 5G deployments one step forward, Qualcomm announced 5G NR trials with key telecom operators by 2019. Top executives from global telecom operators including China Telecom, Korea Telecom, Telstra and NTT Docomo shared their roadmap for 5G deployment during the event. While China Telecom and NTT Docomo are targeting 5G deployment by 2020, Korea Telecom is targeting early deployment by 2018, parallel to Winter Olympics (refer Image 3) being organized in PyeongChang, South Korea. This means that the first commercial 5G NR ecosystem will be ready starting 2019 and other countries are expected to follow the footsteps. Therefore, Korean peninsula is expected to become the global testing ground of various future technologies such as driverless cars, smart cities, augmented reality, etc.

Opportunity for Qualcomm

5G is expected to cut-through the barriers and it is expected to drive innovation across industries, including automotive, smartwatch, notebooks, routers, etc. In case of automotive, OEMs are looking to integrate V2X communication in future cars. V2X includes 4 types of external communications – V2I (Vehicle to Infrastructure), V2V (Vehicle to Vehicle), V2N (Vehicle to Network) and V2P (Vehicle to Pedestrian). The communication enables safety features such as collision alert system (while predicting possible collisions on the way), real-time traffic routing and other features that supplement the adoption of driverless cars in near future. Similarly, in case of smartwatch segment, 5G will enable smartwatch to become key information interface between humans and other devices. Greg McKelvey (Executive Vice President, Chief Strategy & Digital Officer at Fossil Group) expects 50% of their revenue to come from wearables within next 3-4 years (as compared to 15% in 2017). Collectively, 5G connectivity powered by global network operators will be the backbone of everything connected around us. Therefore, adoption of 5G is expected to open array of opportunities for Qualcomm as network operators and device OEMs are expected to rely heavily on Qualcomm due to its’ expertise in mmWave RF behavior. Also, 5G adoption will help Qualcomm to penetrate other market segments such as automotive, smartwatch, laptop/notebook and overall IoT opportunity. Therefore, Qualcomm is boosting confidence among network operators who have been worried about logistical and infrastructural challenges of 5G deployment.

Analyst Opinion

The 4G5G summit has played a significant role in pulling OEMs and telecom operators together setting a clear roadmap for the industry. In the case of OEMs, concerns around the chipset and antennae to cover multiple radios in the smartphone form factor have been addressed. Qualcomm is now confident about its X50 design to support sub-6GHz and mmWave, and it does not expect any major hardware upgrades before first phase of 5G deployments – hence, the chipset hardware is ready. On the operator side, earlier there were hardware-related apprehensions regarding powerful amplifiers and filters that can boost signal quality and work seamlessly on 5G networks. We expect telecom operators to be more confident about 5G deployments, after a working 5G smartphone was showcased at the event.

5G might be the most important milestone in cellular connectivity for decades to come. As Serge Willenegger (SVP, Product Management at Qualcomm) described, 5G might be the last generation of cellular connectivity as it has enough room to evolve and bandwidth to accommodate much more communication, as new technologies can be easily plugged-in to enable new areas of application. So, we might not need another generation of cellular communication technology if 5G is implemented correctly. This means that Qualcomm has a very important role to play while taking the pole position to push the industry forward towards early adoption of 5G technology.

We believe 5G will spur innovation throughout all aspects of the economy as it will form the network powering the so-called 4th industrial revolution.

Hanish is an Associate Director with Counterpoint Technology based in Toronto, Canada. He has 8+ years of industry experience in providing market research and strategic consulting across various industry sectors. He tracks developments in the mobile handset, telecom and IoT industry value chain. He brings in the vast experience of providing advisory services to OEMs & component manufacturers, network operators, private equity firms and technology companies. He played a pivotal role in helping Chinese OEMs set up their manufacturing base in India under the “Make in India” program.

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