Our Heart is in Catalonia

Apparently, Mobile World Congress started this week. We say apparently because the show is not on its best footing this year. While the organizers are holding the event, most of the large exhibitors chose to stay away, so the usual wave of news and events around the event are muted this year.

That being said, little news is not no news. So we plan to review some of the big company announcements that are still coming out, even if just for virtual consumption.

We start the series with a look at Qualcomm.

The company has 5 announcements out so far. Not surprisingly, every one of them has ‘5G’ in the headline.

First up is “Global Mobile Industry Leaders Commit to Support 5G mmWave“. This is both an impressive and unsettling press release. Impressive because Qualcomm lined up 42 companies to join them in the release. This scrum of signatories seems to be a theme in Qualcomm press releases lately. It is a solid list with a couple dozen operators, all the leading handset vendors (except the vendor who shall not be named) and a host of equipment vendors, all saying 5G mmWave is really important and coming soon.

We are firmly in the camp of mmWave skeptics. It will happen, eventually, but is still fairly far from widespread commercial adoption. And so there is something about Qualcomm’s language which rings a bit hollow

“The global deployment of 5G mmWave is now inevitable. It is essential to achieve the full potential of 5G and those embracing 5G mmWave will find themselves with a competitive advantage,” said Cristiano Amon, president and chief executive officer-elect, Qualcomm Incorporated.”

Inevitable is a pretty strong word. And ‘essential to achieve the full potential’ sounds a bit imploring. We read this press release and wondered why Qualcomm is trying so hard to convince everyone of this point. We have written extensively about why mmWave is so important to Qualcomm. Maybe this is just a new CEO introducing a new style of language, but it should be clear that Qualcomm is having to push the industry instead of having customer and telco customers pull them.

Next up is “Qualcomm Upgrades its Premium Tier with Snapdragon 888 Plus 5G Mobile Platform“, which is a solid bread and butter press release. Qualcomm upgrading a leading product. Then there is “Qualcomm Reveals 5G-Advanced Technologies and Experiences for Transforming Industries Worldwide”, which is the opposite type of press release, a very grand sounding title with some less tangible progress. Maybe there is something we are missing, but this reads like new test systems for upcoming 5G features. Interesting, but probably not something that would get a leading spot in a normal conference.

But now we get to the two most interesting announcements: “Qualcomm Unveils Industry’s First Release 16 5g Open RAN Platform for Small Cells” and “Qualcomm Introduces New 5G Distributed Unit Accelerator Card to Drive Global 5G Virtualized RAN Growth“. That’s a lot of words to say that Qualcomm is re-entering the cellular infrastructure market. We should probably do a longer piece about this, but here’s a quick summary. Every wireless standard Qualcomm dips its toe into providing semis for base stations. However, this is not their strength, these products tend to sell in small volumes, a few million units a year for a company that probably sells a billion chips a quarter.

For a long time, the company smartly positioned these efforts as a way to drive adoption of the new standard. But this year is something different. For one, the standard is already pretty far along and does not need this kind of seeding. Secondly, these chips target small cells, or short range mini-base stations. This market is likely to be much more interesting to Qualcomm because volumes will be much more significant (millions per month, maybe). Third, this is the first time in a while that Qualcomm is pushing a particular software approach. Notice that “Open RAN” mention, Qualcomm appears to be jumping into the OpenRAN which is kinda a big deal. Again, we will come back to this. Also, note that second press release “Accelerator Card [for] Virtualized RAN”, this is a new kind of product for Qualcomm, pushing them into the networking space in a way they have not done traditionally. It will be interesting to see how much follow up they bring to these products. Prominent positioning at this event hints that they may be more serious about these infrastructure products than in the past, and that could be important to the industry.

Photo by D2D Advisory

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