Qualcomm Showing It Is Very Much Still In The 5G Leadership Position

The Snapdragon X70 system QUALCOMM

Qualcomm is a company that I follow very closely across multiple market segments, including 5G, smartphones, laptops, and automotive. Last week I attended Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2022 in Barcelona, Spain, where Qualcomm's CEO, Cristiano Amon, announced new products, demonstrating to me that Qualcomm is still very much the leader in smartphone wireless connectivity. 

It has not even been a year since Cristiano Amon took the role of CEO of Qualcomm, and since then, Amon has stuck too much of what he promised for Qualcomm's future, which included continuing its leadership in 5G. While Qualcomm's leadership in wireless connectivity is nothing new, especially considering it spearheaded the rollout of 5G connectivity, the gap that I see emerging within the 5G space between Qualcomm and its competitors is impressive. 

Qualcomm announced many new innovative products at MWC 2022. I want to hit on its newly announced X70 5G system, which could make life more difficult for Apple's modem team. Let's take a look at Qualcomm's X70 among a sea of 'firsts' for Qualcomm.

The first of many firsts

Qualcomm's X70 5G modem is its 5th generation 5G modem and is the first to integrate an AI processor in a 5G Modem RF System. Qualcomm has had many firsts and this is just one of them. The X50 was the world's first 5G modem, 5G reference design, 5G mmWave module, and mmWave reference design. The X55 had the world's first wideband envelope tracking solution for higher 5G power efficiency. The X60 was the world's first mmWave to sub6 aggregation and from the X65 to the X70 is the world's only 5G solution supporting every 5G band from 600MHz to 41GHz. The X65 is also the world's first 10Gbps 5G solution, the first modem-RF solution with 3GPP Release 16, and the first with 5G uplink carrier aggregation support.

None of these are small 'firsts' either, and I believe they are incredible accomplishments for Qualcomm and the 5G space. These "firsts" show me that Qualcomm is still the leader in 5G technology, and it has made an even larger gap with the X70 5G modem as the first modem to have an AI processor integrated into the system.

I believe the AI processor addresses one aspect of connectivity that is hard to get around: subjectivity. Signal coverage, strength, and other variables like efficiency are subjective to real-world factors like location, population density, and even weather. Qualcomm's 5G AI Suite showcases AI-powered modem-RF techniques like AI-based channel-state feedback and beams management to combat the subjective nature of connectivity. The AI-based channel-state feedback should help increase the system's average downlink and uplink speeds for more reliability and better power efficiency. The AI-based beam management should increase coverage and mobility. Qualcomm's AI suite should improve speeds, coverage, mobility, and robustness for the X70 5G modem. 

Global RF leadership

Along with its list of 'firsts,' the Qualcomm X70 5G modem is unmatched in many areas of 5G connectivity that are worth noting. It has unmatched global band support and spectrum aggregation. Qualcomm says its 4X downlink carrier aggregation across TDD and FDD, mmWave-sub-6 aggregation offers global operators ultimate flexibility. This support and aggregation give Qualcomm a competitive advantage for consumers, enterprises, and the connected, intelligent edge. 

This company's position in RF systems is strong, and although it is diversifying into other markets, its leadership in RF systems is complementary to its diversification. 5G connectivity is critical to the advancement of mobile devices, IoT, smart cities, eventually AR/VR, and instances where powerful computing could be remote and automotive. While some could say that Qualcomm is taking its foot off the 5G accelerator to switch lanes, it is actually ramping up its presence with the one innovative technology that unites all its verticals—RF systems. 

With the arrival of 5G, the entire industry saw just how much more important RF was and how there were benefits to a close digital and analog symbiosis. RF systems play a critical role in Qualcomm's mobile, ACPC, and automotive plays and are all stand-out factors within its respectable markets. Some of the greatest recent moves for Qualcomm revolve around its prowess in RF systems now and how it goes about making sure no one can keep up. This announcement by Qualcomm reinforces its wireless leadership and leaves everyone else number two within the realm of competition. 

By continuing to add more modem and RF features at a rapid pace, this could become a competitive challenge for Apple, which is trying to build its own modem and partnering on the RF side. It's too early to say if this would drive a delay in Apple's roadmap as the company hasn't said a word about it since it bought the assets of Intel's 5G modem. One good question I get is about how Apple can do so well even though it's typically a laggard on the wireless comms side. Apple was 18 months late with 5G, and it didn't seem to cost them market share. It's a good question, but I think it has to catch up to the company at some point.

It allows Qualcomm to implement features as it did with AI-based enhancements on the X70 5G modem. Qualcomm's integrated AI processer reinforces the RF system as an innovation that guides the wireless industry rather than an innovation that follows standards and trends.

Wrapping up

I like Cristiano Amon's Qualcomm and do not see Qualcomm slowing down within the realm of 5G systems. Year after year, its 5G modems have shown Qualcomm's leadership with a long list of 'firsts,' and its RF parts are impressive. The X70 5G modem is the world's only modem to antenna 5G solution and the world's only 5G solution with every 5G band from 600MHz to 41GHz, and that is impressive.

I'd hate to be at Apple trying to keep up with this freight train. But does it have to? 

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.