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Qualcomm and 5G: Innovating a Disruptive Future

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Qualcomm is the leader in 5G; the company has been spending a great deal of the last 20 years building to the release of this new technology. This week the company had a press event on the State of 5G, and this will be my thoughts on what they said. Currently, they have 45+ OEMs that have launched 5G phones, and 50+ operators have commercially deployed 5G, and Qualcomm expects 2.8B 5G connections by 2025. This rollout speed is well ahead of how quickly 4G deployed, and this is likely because 4G was mostly a performance bump while 5G is a bundle of technologies that include mmWave, FDD low-band, Dynamic spectrum sharing, Spectrum aggregation, Standalone mode, and Network virtualization (which is cutting across traditional networking wired hardware at this same time).

This event is a showcase of Qualcomm’s wireless technologies and points to a massive amount of disruption as this technology rolls out.

5G Update

This 5G update is bringing fiber speeds to your Smartphone and other connected devices. This last was driven home over the weekend when my Bend Broadband line went dead, and I lost internet, TV, and phone service until it was restored. I’ll be able to move to a 5G home access point, potentially reducing this kind of outage (the wind had taken out one of the physical cable runs). The GSMA GLOMO just gave Qualcomm the 2020 Innovation award for its 5G X55 modem. In Qualcomm’s competitive comparison, there is no other modem that comes close, and then they announced their new X60 modem using a 5nm process (most everyone else is struggling to get to 7nm). This new modem provides up to 7.5G per second down and 3G per second up wireless performance.

The X60 modem supports aggregation across all key spectrum bands, which is how they get to that 7.5G per second performance number. So, you have mmWave, Mid-band, and 5G low band; this allows a device to pull from exiting 4G bands as well as 5G and other bands for huge channels and true 5G performance in 4G coverage areas. We never got this before; it means users will see performance boosts in areas that might otherwise have been years out.

Another new feature of the X60 is ultraSAW filter technology. This advancement will allow antenna performance that Qualcomm represents will be the best in the industry.

Samsung

Arguably the most powerful Android Smartphone maker in the market is Samsung and in their flagship Galaxy S20 series and Samsung’s first phone with full 5G performance across the entire line. Samsung is using this technology to showcase the power of its lines.

They showcased several user experiences people can expect using a 5G phone. They demonstrated the S20 in a concert where multiple users are using the phone and DJ pulling from the phones was able to transition between scenes on the phones with massively high resolution, and you can imagine that using a large display at the concert or streaming the event remotely you could turn all of the users into potential cameramen and women providing unique camera angles and better engaging those users in the performance. Granted, picking between the images real-time will be, I expect, a difficult and lucrative skillset. But in post-editing, for a taped event, this could provide a level of connection between the remote audience that we don’t get today.

The subtle point is that these phones can all be on and streaming at speed, even in a highly dense event like a concert.

XR2 – Redefining Extended Reality

Qualcomm announced their XR2 Extended Reality platform supporting 2K per eye and up to 7 cameras in a headset that is also potentially 5G capable. Facebook was brought on spate to talk about their use of this platform in their Oculus line. Facebook is excited about the performance increases as well as the ability to create a high-performance dedicated headset that not only blows away prior generation products but can be more easily patched and updated.

This low latency network will allow Extended Reality users to teleport themselves to any place in the world where there is an extended reality camera real time effectively. As we adjust to the Coronavirus exposure, the ability to travel without traveling is likely to become increasingly important.

One of the things that this next generation of devices has going for it is that they don’t need a PC (no tethering to a PC), don’t need remote cameras (you use the ones in the headset), and the experience is you just put the headset on and experience the magic of Extended Reality.

We likely should have held back delivering consumer products until this point, because finally, the hardware appears to be ready for a good customer experience.

7c-8c And The Always Connected PC

I’ve been impressed with these products, which represented a pooling of talent between Qualcomm and Microsoft to create PCs that had multi-day battery life and are designed to be always connected. Seventeen mobile operators worldwide (including Sprint and Verizon) will be supporting this mobile PC announcement. This advancement will allow Microsoft Azure (and other cloud solution providers) to create services designed for always-connected mobile PC users.

They demonstrated the ability to edit videos on Azure real-time using one of these new Always Connected PCs. This cloud capability potentially provides workstation performance to laptop users. They called out Lenovo as the first laptop vendor to build a 5G always-connected PC. Lenovo is emerging as the technology leader in the PC space because, for every major announcement over the last quarter, they have been the one consistent PC vendor on stage.

They showcased an implementation in South Africa where students could use this technology to use cloud resources to get a far more competitive education.

Qualcomm FSM 5G RAN – Rakuten

Qualcomm brought Rakuten (known for cashback offers here in the US), who has deployed the first virtualized cloud-native 5G network on stage to talk about the benefits of this cutting-edge wireless network technology. Out of Japan, their name translates into “optimism,” and they grew from having 13 stores supporting them to now being the number 1 provider in Japan of several credit-card and e-commerce properties. They have 1.4B members using their services.

They have built over 4K 5G ready cell sites along with their necessary networking and computing infrastructure. This solution is a fully blended communications platform ranging from data to full video conferencing. The goal is to create a truly global integrated communications solution.

When creating this network, they decided to clean slate the solution. So, Rakuten decided to virtualize the data access, and everyone said it couldn’t be done. (I love these stories because, often, “everyone” is wrong). And they built it, and the result is presented as being more secure, more agile, less costly, and far more effective than the networks that preceded it. Their architecture is the first OpenRAN architecture ever deployed, and it shifted the critical path when it comes to network upgrades from hardware to software, and 130 people are administering the result for a network like that of Sprint or Verizon. This solution is a massive drop in complexity and overhead. Both Qualcomm and Rakuten invested in Altiostar, who leads in low infrastructure OpenRAN solutions for near plug and play cell sites with performance up to 9.6G per second. It takes three days to bring up a typical cell site; it takes Rakuten 8.5 minutes to bring up one of these new ones.

5G + Wi-Fi 6

Qualcomm is also investing in how to make W-Fi better and assuring seamless transitions between the two technologies. Qualcomm has over 200 design wins in Wi-Fi 6 coupled with FastConnect. They announced they are now supporting 6 GHz to significantly increase the Wi-Fi 6 (now Wi-Fi 6E) bandwidth. (Great I have two Wi-Fi 6 access points, and they are now obsolete). But this, too, should provide a significant bandwidth increase for supporting devices.

Wrapping Up

5G is a game-changer, Qualcomm is arguably the world leader in terms of deployable and deployed 5G technology. It promises, and apparently (according to the multiple reference accounts brought on stage) powerful increases in performance, security, network reliability, and user experience opening the door for better connectivity in highly dense venues (concerts and rallies), vastly more capable extended reality solutions, and far more capable wireless PCs and devices.

And we are just at the very beginning of this rollout. I expect that, by the end, we’ll see a very different group of vendors because most existing vendors won’t be able to pivot from the old to the new fast enough. Rakuten’s experience alone suggests that even carriers may fall.

The State of 5G is good, but it will disrupt everything else, and while Samsung, Lenovo, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Rakuten are ready, most aren’t ready for this disruption; they aren’t ready at all.

Rob Enderle has been a Quinstreet columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an AS, BS, and MBA in merchandising, human resources, marketing, and computer science. Enderle is currently president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly worked at IBM and served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester.

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