At a big corporate event in Hong Kong Qualcomm took the opportunity to whip up the 5G hype one more time.
While we have seen some of the first green shoots of 5G in the wild this year, 2019 will be when the roll out of 5G in real life will explode. Judging by the endless stream of 5G test announcements, each one claiming its own infinitesimally incremental ‘first’, 5G is ready to go. Qualcomm has spent most of this year, when not engaged in corporate warfare with the likes of Broadcom and Apple, talking up 5G and this Hong Kong event represented the culmination of that effort.
5G is a pretty big deal for a variety of tech sector stakeholders, many of which made an appearance at the event, but it’s fair to say 5G is critical to Qualcomm. The company established a dominant position for itself as a modem player during the 3G era by owning a lot of the technology from which the standard was comprised. It wasn’t possible to repeat that trick in subsequent generations, so Qualcomm diversified into other types of silicon generally found in mobile devices.
The whole point of 5G is to bring cellular connectivity to pretty much everything. While this opens up a whole bunch of new opportunities it also complicates the business of dominating it. More than any previous generation this means partnerships, both within the telecoms and tech sectors but also across other industries.
Qualcomm’s first guest speaker was Thomas Noren, Head of 5G Commercialization at Ericsson (pictured above with Cristiano Amon of Qualcomm). The highlight of his appearance was a set-piece claiming to be the first 5G NR sub-6 GHz (specifically 3.5 GHz) call to a mobile form factor device. This latest ‘first’ actually took place in an Ericsson lab, but they decided to re-enact the whole thing live at the event to ensure we could fully appreciate the sheet majesty of it.
“Today’s call marks a significant milestone as we have now successfully made 3GPP-compliant calls in the sub-6 GHz and mmWave spectrum bands, which will facilitate mobile operators’ deployment of their 5G NR networks,” said Durga Malladi, GM of 4G/5G at Qualcomm, in the accompanying press release. “Sub-6 GHz spectrum is instrumental to the global 5G NR rollout as it will provide wide area, high performance connectivity and has been allocated and auctioned in numerous regions around the world, including the US, Korea and Europe, with others to follow shortly.”
In the main opening session of the event alone, the following companies all got their moment in the Qualcomm spotlight: Samsung, OnePlus, Tencent, NextVR, Microsoft, Geely, Honeywell, AWS and Xiaomi. Other announcements made at the event included some new 5G mm wave antenna modules, some 5G small cell tech with Samsung, a new Snapdragon SoC designed for mid-tier smartphones and a new 5G smartphone reference design that actually looks like a smartphone.
Qualcomm is determined to make itself as synonymous with 5G as it did the previous two generations. To do that it needs to be involved in a wide variety of technologies and sectors and the Hong Kong event seemed designed to demonstrate that it’s doing just that. There is a very real danger that the reality of 5G in 2019 will fall well short of the hype, but Qualcomm is clearly prepared to take that risk.