The last several weeks have been busy as I have crisscrossed the country attending several industry events, including Mobile World Congress 2022 in Las Vegas. Overall, the show was well attended, addressing many top-of-mind telco industry topics related to private cellular networks, mmWave, O-RAN/ V-RAN and more. For the latter, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. made a significant product announcement at the event that, from my perspective, continues to build its momentum in the infrastructure space. I want to highlight the specifics, dive into the technical aspects, and provide my take on what is compelling. However, it would help first to set some context.
The journey from end device to infrastructure
There is no dispute that Qualcomm Technologies is an integral part of the 5G ecosystem. Its Snapdragon platform enables a host of 5G devices ranging from smartphones, hotspot devices, smart cameras, and IoT sensors. The company established a foothold in small cell infrastructure over a decade ago, and almost two years ago, it added macro cell solutions. It’s a brilliant strategy to extend its reach from end device to infrastructure to capitalize off the growing momentum behind O-RAN and V-RAN. That effort has resulted in a comprehensive portfolio that spans small to macro cells including an accelerator card designed to improve O-RAN performance.
Qualcomm Technologies enables OEMs such as Nokia, Samsung Networks, Airspan Networks, and others to design high-performance, low-power small-cell platforms on the silicon front. These products are critical in providing needed densification, especially in upper mid-band and high-band mmWave spectrum deployments where propagation can be challenging. The second focus is on silicon for macro cells that is O-RAN compliant. O-RAN promises significant capital expenditure savings using open interfaces and industry-standard hardware. However, early naysayers have pointed to a concern about the performance given its disaggregated nature. Consequently, based on its overall silicon development, Qualcomm Technologies now offers a portfolio of products which include its Qualcomm X100 5G RAN Accelerator Card and the Qualcomm QRU100 5G RAN Platform. With that context set, I will examine what the company announced at MWC Americas.
MWC Americas announcements
Qualcomm Technologies’ announcement at the event delivers on its promise to sample both solutions within two years. That is a significant accomplishment and commitment given that the company’s 5G infrastructure portfolio is a grounds-up design, purpose-built to address the needs and requirements of operators wanting to deploy O-RAN and V-RAN solutions.
At a high level, Qualcomm Technologies announced that a select number of customers and partners are testing and validating its Qualcomm X100 5G RAN Accelerator Card and its Qualcomm QRU100 5G RAN Platform. It also shared the corresponding product specifications for the first time publicly. The company claims that all of these efforts have the potential to lower the total cost of ownership tied to 5G deployments while delivering uncompromised performance. It is hard to argue with its assumptions. The inline accelerator card is shipping with Hewlett Packard Enterprise and others, and I captured my insights in this Forbes article in February of this year. What I like about the accelerator card is that it aims to simplify deployments by offering a turnkey solution for O-RAN fronthaul and 5G NR Layer 1 High processing. The Qualcomm QRU100 5G RAN Platform leverages the company’s strength in RF design, spans Sub-6 GHz to mmWave spectrum support, and can take advantage of Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) to maximize network capacity. These capabilities should continue to drive Qualcomm Technologies’ momentum and extend its low power, high performance silicon reach even further into the 5G infrastructure market.
I am impressed with Qualcomm Technologies seizing the opportunity not to be content with its significant market position in end devices and moving aggressively into the 5G infrastructure space. The company timed it well, realizing that the shift in IT enterprise networking infrastructure with disaggregation and cloudification would quickly translate to the communication service provider market.
I liken O-RAN and V-RAN to a baseball game (I couldn’t resist the analogy, given my Houston Astros are in the playoffs again!). We are in the early innings of what might be a long, hard-fought game. Standards are coalescing, and operators are deep in evaluations and proof of concepts, but these platforms have the capability of lowering cost, accelerating agility, and domesticating the 5G supply chain. Qualcomm Technologies is well positioned to reap the rewards.
Disclosure: My firm, Moor Insights & Strategy, like all research and analyst firms, provides or has provided research, analysis, advising, and/or consulting to many high-tech companies in the industry, including Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung, cited or related to this article. I do not hold any equity positions with any companies cited in this column.