I had the opportunity mid-October to spend time with Qualcomm at its 5G Summit in Barcelona. There was a bit of excitement with the separatist protests that occurred the same week, but I came away with a new appreciation for how the company is shaping 5G now and into the future. I would like to share my insights from the event.
Game changers for 5G
Dean Brenner heads spectrum strategy and technology policy for Qualcomm. At the event, he shared what he believes to be the key considerations for the next-generation cellular connectivity standard. One, in particular, stands out: Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS). DSS allows the existing mid-band spectrum used today for 4G LTE to be automatically allocated to 5G services if both the end device and base station are compatible. This provides a carrier the flexibility to support 5G as users and services grow without the need to dedicate spectrum to one “G” or the other. DSS is a part of the most recent 3GPP Release 15 that supports the 5G New Radio standard, but it’s important to note that DSS doesn’t provide access to new spectrum. Rather, it allows carriers to more effectively manage what they own and provision 4G and 5G support. I wrote a recent article demystifying spectrum, and if interested you can find that article here.
Another game-changer for 5G from my perspective is mmWave. Today, the United States is almost exclusively paving the way for use of the high-band spectrum for 5G deployments. The key advantage of mmWave is a higher data transfer rate, but indoor propagation and transmission distance challenges require a highly densified placement of base stations that drives higher infrastructure costs. Devices also draw more power which shortens battery life, and antennas need to utilize special beamforming enhancements to ensure reliable connectivity. During the first day of the event, I tweeted out that the power of mobile 5G is full-spectrum support, including the historically technically challenged mmWave. I was impressed with what Qualcomm is doing to level the playing field globally so that operators can monetize 5G services quickly and easily. It’s an entire ecosystem approach that includes modems, chipsets and antenna modules for both mobility and fixed wireless access (FWA). For the latter, it’s worth noting Qualcomm’s announcement at the event that over 30 original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are integrating the Snapdragon X55 5G Modem RF System into FWA equipment. FWA presents carriers with the flexibility to provide last-mile connectivity wirelessly when a wireline or fiber connection is unavailable or not cost-effective. I expect 5G FWA could be used as part of the overall solution to address rural connectivity challenges in the United States as well.
From a 5G mmWave mobility perspective, recent design advancements by Qualcomm in its antenna modules are also significantly extending transmission ranges. The company claims that it is seeing improvements that take current propagation limits of 500 feet to over one mile. That is truly a game-changer from an operator economics perspective given the aforementioned need to traditionally densify networks.
Could 5G unlock the cloud?
During his keynote, President Cristiano Amon spoke to 5G’s ability to draw the end device closer to the cloud and unlock more value for enterprises. It’s a powerful vision that I believe will birth transformative use cases beyond what we can currently imagine (for example, what 4G LTE did for ridesharing). I believe AgTech could also benefit significantly and I’ve written on this subject in the past. John Deere offers a cloud service, but spotty LTE coverage today on farms and ranches in the United States require “burst” connectivity within signal range. It will take time to build out 5G rural infrastructure given the challenging carrier economics for the return on investment, but the potential for 5G to improve crop yields and reduce the use of pesticides could have a dramatic effect globally.
The network edge will also play a key role in a future 5G world, in regards to “smart” manufacturing, cities, healthcare and more. On this point, I continue to be impressed with where Qualcomm is popping up—from Cisco Systems’Meraki line of connected cameras to the world’s first 5G standards-based mmWave hotspot from Netgear, offered by AT&T.
This was my first Qualcomm 5G Summit and I was impressed with Mr. Amon, Mr. Brenner, and other leaders’ visions for 5G. The defining moment for me was when Samsung Foundry lead Dr. ES Jung joined Mr. Amon on stage and lauded Qualcomm as the most innovative technology company on the planet. That’s a bold statement from Samsung, a company that touches just about every person on the planet with a consumer electronics device. Qualcomm may not have the same brand recognition with the average consumer, but suffice to say it is an integral part of both the present and future of 5G.