Qualcomm believes 5G will be a unified connectivity fabric across devices and services. The company's President, Christiano Amon, spoke to press at Qualcomm HQ in San Diego on 7 February about the chipset maker's great ambitions for the next-generation technology, in addition to a string of announcements that underpin the company's commitment to making 5G a commercial reality by 2019.
5G will drive innovation and growth that will extend into many industries beyond smartphones, Amon said expressing Qualcomm's vision for 5G as the technology's expected commercial release date looms. The first implementable 5G New Radio (NR) specification was completed on 21 December 2017 at the 3GPP TSG RAN Plenary Meeting in Lisbon, setting the stage for full-scale development of 5G NR for large-scale trials and commercial deployments as early as in 2019.
"We have been optimistic about 5G, just as we have been about any generation of wireless. But 5G is of particular importance to us because it comes at a time when we have a mature smartphone ecosystem," said Amon. "The scale of the smartphone ecosystem is so big that we have a clear line of sight that the technology will extend to other industries."
Those other industries represent a $66 trillion opportunity by 2020, Qualcomm predicts, including automotive and Internet of Things (IoT). To service these industries, Qualcomm announced on 14 February its wireless edge solutions for non-phone customers and non-phone devices in industrial applications. The company also announced an LTE IoT software development kit (SDK) to accelerate commercialization of IoT solutions.
Qualcomm foresees 5G extending to areas including autonomous manufacturing, autonomous transportation, remote healthcare, smart agriculture, energy and utilities, improved public safety and security, sustainability of cities, and digitized logistics and retail. The technology will expand the mobile ecosystem to new industries and generate $12 trillion in goods and services by 2035.
Qualcomm also confirmed that the mobile industry is actively preparing for 5G. AT&T expects to be the first US company to introduce mobile 5G services in a dozen markets by late 2018. Its competitor Sprint said it will launch the first "truly mobile 5G network" in the US by the first half of 2019. Meanwhile China Mobile said it will launch a mobile 5G large-scale trial in the second half of 2018.
"We see 5G as a significant connectivity upgrade. It comes at a time when all of us want unlimited data and carriers want to find a way to provide this in an economic way," said Amon. "We have to make choices about what is going to be locally stored and what will be cloud-stored. Looking at what consumers really want, 5G provides the potential for new smartphone upgrades."
Amon also acknowledged 5G's ability to scale beyond smartphones into the aforementioned areas such as automotive, massive IoT, and a number of other industries. "That is how we see the potential of 5G," he said. "As wireless matures, we won't just be talking about the smartphone segment anymore – it will be a discussion involving many other industries."
The ecosystem is preparing for 5G, he added. "Operators today cover 2.5 billion users and they are actively investing into the preparation of the networks and getting ready to announce CAPEX expansion and they are building 5G infrastructures as we speak," Amon said. "Some operators in the US are talking about rolling out 5G networks as early as mid-2019."
18 wireless network operators have selected Qualcomm's Snapdragon X50 5G modem for mobile 5G NR trials in 2018 in both the sub-6Ghz and millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum bands. Trials will be conducted by AT&T, BT, China Telecom, China Mobile, China Unicom, Singtel, SK Telecom, Sprint, Telstra, TIM, Verizon, Orange and Vodafone, based on the 3GPP Release 15 5G NR standard.
The mobile 5G NR trials will utilize Qualcomm's 5G mobile test platform and smartphone reference design, which incorporate the Snapdragon X50 chipset and optimize 5G technology within the power and form factor constraints of a smartphone while maintaining interoperability and coexistence with 4G LTE.
Qualcomm introduced its new Snapdragon X24 LTE modem on 14 February, the world's first announced 2Gbps LTE modem, which will allow operators to tap into all existing spectrum resources, and add more capacity via license assisted access (LAA) part of LTE Advanced Pro.
"The path to 5G includes a strong LTE foundation," Dino Flores, Qualcomm's VP of Technology, told Telecom Review at Qualcomm HQ. "Gigabit LTE is essential to 5G evolution to 2Gbps."
Qualcomm supported the world's first commercial smartphone to feature Gigabit LTE in September 2017. Integrated into the Snapdragon 835 mobile platform, the Snapdragon X16 Gigabit LTE modem gives the ASUS ZenFone 4 Pro the ability to execute ultra-fast download speeds over 4G LTE, on a compatible LTE network, providing an early glimpse of 5G mobile experiences.
Operator trials for 5G will start in 2018 and will utilize spectrum in the sub-6GHz and mmWave bands, which is critical for achieving ubiquitous coverage and enhanced network capacity.
Furthermore, in order to meet the first half of 2019 timeframe, the use of Snapdragon X50 5G modem during these mobile 5G NR trials is expected to prepare operators for the commercial network roll out of 5G, equip original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to deliver 5G smartphones and allow for testing and development across a wide range of use cases and deployment scenarios.
"These trials demonstrate how we are working with global operators to fuel growth and innovation in the mobile industry and make 5G a reality by supporting a large number of expected commercial launches in 2019," said Amon. "With our proven success in 3G, 4G LTE and RF front-end leadership, Qualcomm Technologies is ideally positioned to deliver the multi-gigabit, multimode products required for the global rollout of 5G."
In terms of regional preparedness for 5G, Amon said Asia is rocketing ahead with innovation. China is like an open market for consumer electronics and smartphones, he said, so when demand grows for new technology in China it accelerates the availability of new devices across the globe. There is also aggressive technology innovation coming from South Korea and Japan from both operators and mobile manufacturers.
South Korean mobile manufacturers Samsung and LG, as well as China's Xiaomi, OPPO, ZTE, and Japan's Sony Mobile, have all selected Qualcomm's Snapdragon X50 5G NR modem family for mobile device launches in 2019.
Other significant OEMs working with Qualcomm include ASUS, Fujitsu, HMD Global (Nokia smartphones), Vivo, HTC, and NETGEAR. These OEMs are working to commercialize 5G mobile devices for the sub-6GHz and mmWave spectrum bands starting in 2019 based on Qualcomm's first commercially announced 5G modem solution.
"The activity we are seeing in 2018 gives us 100% confidence that there will be 5G roll-outs in 2019," said Amon. "In 2019, 5G-capable devices will start to emerge and we will begin to see the basic foundations for the technology. The beginning of 5G will be in late 2018 and then the transition will begin for operators and manufacturers."
Are 5G use cases realistic?
5G is being touted as revolutionary step forward in connectivity, but are the use cases just speculation at this point? One thing for certain is that 5G will provide multi-gigabit speeds which will fuel Qualcomm's vision of a "gigabit society". The second thing 5G will definitely provide is increased capacity for economical unlimited data. The third thing 5G will provide is lower latency.
5G will also enable immersive mobile entertainment in ultra-HD broadcast. The future of video consumption is streaming and you need to have the capacity to allow that. But more importantly, 5G will enable mission critical use cases which will fuel the healthcare and security industries, and also allow for connected autonomous vehicles.
Qualcomm and Ford announced in January 2018 plans to accelerate the development of connected cars by developing connectivity systems for Ford vehicles and upcoming Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) technology testing.
C-V2X is a highly advanced wireless connectivity technology for safety-conscious and automated driving solutions, which has the potential to help cities create more capable infrastructure as they look at how to connect vehicles to their surroundings, and to larger communications systems, facilitating the development and delivery of smart, connected transportation throughout the world.
Qualcomm's first C-V2X commercial solution, the Qualcomm 9150 C-V2X chipset, is expected to be commercially available in the second half of 2018. Ford and Qualcomm are currently working together on the first announced US C-V2X trials in San Diego, along with additional trials in Detroit, with both trials utilizing the 9150 C-V2X solution.
"5G will create opportunities in the industry beyond upgrading your smartphone, which is where you get into mission critical data," said Amon. "Connected vehicles will have the ability to make mission critical decisions."
Amon made a final point that there is a "more mature understanding in the industry today of the power of wireless generations in economic development of multiple countries and economies."
When the United States built a large infrastructure for 4G, it allowed for the creation of new business models, he said. There would be no Instagram, Snapchat, Uber or WhatsApp if it weren't for the opportunities created by 4G. The whole concept of the sharing economy wouldn't have materialized. 5G will have a similar impact on business models, reshaping them to become even more agile and efficient.