This is a big week for the mobile industry – the Mobile World Congress (MWC) kicked off in Barcelona. We decided not to attend this year (less about fear of Covid and more about the agonies of travel). And while we recognize this should not be the focus of the news right now, reading about the show does make for a good distraction from the rest of the world.
Over the next few days we will look at big news coming from the show. The real value of MWC is meeting people face to face (over tapas, jamon iberico and cafe con leche), but we think we can still pick up meaningful signal from 6,000 miles away.
Today, we are going to examine the load of press releases from Qualcomm. They always have a lot of press releases out just ahead of the show, and this year seems a particular bounty. We will give an overview of each here, dig into a few later this week, and pick up reports from others as the week plays out.
This year, Qualcomm has put out 16 press releases, which we think may be a record. They span the gamut from highly technical to largely aspirational. We would group these into 3 areas – core mobility/basebands/RF, network infrastructure and new things. The first group covers areas of Qualcomm’s traditional strengths – technologies for phones. The network infrastructure area is not exactly new, but the amount of effort Qualcomm is putting into it this year is new. The last area covers new business models for telcos and wireless networks; we call this “New Wireless” but we could call it “New Telco” or just “New Qualcomm” as they touch on a lot of areas where Qualcomm seems to be going.
In recent years, Qualcomm’s MWC focus has drifted a bit, with a lot of less tangible announcements, but not this year, there is some powerful stuff in here.
First the company lays out their key technologies – especially around modems and RF. The company also teases the combination of RF and AI. We know where this is going on. Rest assured we will dig deep on these two soon.
The next three press releases are less exciting but highly practical and probably more important commercially in the near term. The company has a new set of reference designs to speed the development of 5G modules. This is important for a host of applications, especially around industrial deployments of 5G. Then they announced Wi-Fi 7, sure Wi-Fi 6 has barely started, but Qualcomm goes to 7. We see this press release as a not-so-subtle reminder to the industry that Qualcomm has a massive Wi-Fi business. Finally, they announced a series of audio enhancements. This is one of those things that smartphone makers appreciate (it’s not as good as a competitive AP, but still helpful). After image processing, audio playback is probably one of the areas that consumers care most about in phones.
This is another important area we will revisit this week. Put simply, Qualcomm is once again jumping into the mobile infrastructure market, but a big change from the past is their active involvement in the software ecosystem around these networks. Wireless networks are potentially poised for some massive changes and Qualcomm is waking up to the need for them to be active participants in shaping this. This interest was not always clear.
First, they lay out their roadmap and vision. A lot of this discussion is tied to the emergence of the Open RAN (O-RAN) standard, but we think it is a mistake to view the company’s efforts here as solely tied to that. There is a lot going on. True, they have announcements about partnerships with both Fujitsu and Mavenir. Significant in that it positions Qualcomm on the more Open side of the O-RAN debate. But they are also announcing new software suites for managing access networks, and a continued push around fixed wireless access, as well as a partnership with Italian operator Fastweb. Those last two probably get closest to demonstrating Qualcomm’s real intent here – they are much more concerned with the adoption of mmWave networks than O-RAN. Most intriguing is their announcement with Microsoft which we originally read as part of their enterprise push for Windows on Qualcomm (see below), but is actually centered on a partnership with Microsoft to connect Qualcomm hardware and Azure telecom cloud services. This is a big deal for Microsoft (and here) and it interesting to see the two teaming up on this.
As has become usual with Qualcomm lately, they have an announcement about Windows on Arm PCs. They are essentially announcing a channel program to work with partners and software vendors to make Qualcomm-based PCs more interesting to the enterprise. Most remarkable about this is that this is an area Qualcomm has long struggled. They are not great with third party software nor with channel sales, so as much as we are ambivalent about Windows on Qualcomm, this is a smart move for the company.
Then comes Qualcomm’s announcement about cars. This is not surprising for a company that has featured a F1 race car in its MWC booth for many years, but is just a marker of solid progress in adapting Snapdragon for cars. At some point, they are going to rebrand this as something with a more car focused name.
And then rounding it up are announcements about partnerships with Bosch and Gridspertise about deploying wireless networks in industrial and utility settings, respectively. Once upon a time these announcements would have been somewhat routine placeholders, but given the changes coming in mobile networks (see all those announcements above) they take on more significance here.