Intelligence Brief: Qualcomm advancing fast on 5G - Mobile World Live

Intelligence Brief: Qualcomm advancing fast on 5G

31 OCT 2018

Earlier this month, Qualcomm made a number of 5G related announcements at its 4G/5G Summit in Hong Kong.

Unlike previous years, the recent event included a dedicated day of interactions with only journalists and analysts. I jumped at the chance for some candid conversations and left with three key takeaways around 5G and IoT:
1. Qualcomm has rapidly moved from prototypes (at 2017’s summit) to more concrete demos and tangible products and solutions ready for commercialisation in 2019 (this year’s event), a remarkable step which companies in the 5G ecosystem can build on.
2. The company is increasingly showing its technology leadership in 5G, leading with its mmWave solutions that will harness the indoor coverage ability for enterprise and residential use.
3. That Qualcomm’s ecosystem partners chose to share 5G enterprise use cases in industrial, retail, and automotive sectors suggests they expect these to be early adopters. Retail is unexpected as it isn’t often listed as a third example.

Main developments
Overall, Qualcomm made eight new 5G-related announcements at its summit (see table, right, click to enlarge). Many are consumer-facing technical innovations aiming to accelerate developments in 5G and IoT. This is not surprising. Qualcomm, after all, is racing towards achieving 5G commercialisation in 2019 and consumer use cases are some of the first to materialise.

What is surprising is Qualcomm’s challenge to the broader 5G ecosystem to design the kind of immersive customer experience in a device form factor which 5G and mmWave will support.

This focus on designing products with enhanced customer experience in mind should not be ignored.

If successful, it could accelerate adoption of consumer IoT based on two new technological enablers from Qualcomm:
1. Its significantly reduced-size 5G mmWave antenna module should spur creatives to design the kind of extended reality wearables as ordinary as a pair of glasses, or the visor that Geordi La Forge wears in Star Trek. Qualcomm was candid (in private) that the current immersive form factor needs improvement to spur mainstream adoption.
2. The small cell partnership with Samsung (announcement number three in the table) is a significant move that helps remove the need to make a choice between Wi-Fi and cellular devices. While not necessarily positioned for in-home deployment, ubiquitous 5G coverage will help to make the case for connectivity beyond Wi-Fi or Bluetooth in consumer devices.

Cautious optimism
During a 5G deep dive session shared with journalists and analysts, Qualcomm showed a lab test focused on the performance of 5G mmWave indoors. It offered two future use cases in Enterprise Networks and factory automation, with the expectation that private networks should increasingly become economically and technically viable to deploy. Qualcomm backed this statement based on its own busy pipeline built out of committed business development efforts with C-level executives in each individual key customer.

I do not doubt Qualcomm’s experience, but would caveat the optimism with two additional points. First, Qualcomm’s current company-specific business development approach adds to the time needed to discover technical and business needs. Second, the mathematics of return on investments equations will always demand a strong business case to justify spending.

These caveats are important because our own Enterprise Survey (currently in progress) reflects a cautious prioritised investment approach towards 5G private networks among large manufacturers.

Overall, much of the excitement during the Qualcomm 4G/5G Summit was down to the technology achievements within the last year, which set the ground for further developments.

Implied above, the challenge from Qualcomm to the rest of the ecosystem is also to make progress on business models for both consumer and enterprise adoption. For example, the topic of who will pay for the customer experience was not discussed.

To this end, innovation is needed around the business enablers to price such a benefit. We are used to the one-off transactions of a product purchase, but 5G enables service-oriented transactions which require new mechanisms. Qualcomm’s Summit may not be the forum to discuss these outstanding areas. But, with MWC 2019 only a few months away, I expect to see more examples of use cases, collaboration and deployment from the 5G ecosystem in the New Year.

– Yiru Zhong, lead analyst for IoT and Enterprise, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.