Qualcomm Extends 5G Beyond Phones
While most of the attention given to 5G has been related to smartphones, many have started to discuss the fact that there’s a much broader opportunity for the technology. Recently, for example, we’ve seen a number of important developments related to using 5G to deliver wireless broadband services (sometimes called Fixed Wireless Access, or FWA) to homes and businesses. At their most recent Un-Carrier Internet Freedom event, for example, T-Mobile, announced an expansion of their consumer-focused 5G Home Internet solution, as well as a new $50/month option for small businesses. The company also revealed that they’ve already signed up 1 million customers for the home service and debuted a new 15-day free Test Drive trial offer that they’re hoping will drive that number much higher.
At Qualcomm’s 5G Summit event this week they focused on several different technology developments and applications designed to bring more non-smartphone connections to 5G networks. In the case of wireless broadband, the company debuted several innovations that they’re adding to the previously announced Snapdragon X70 5G modem RF system (see “Qualcomm Demos Future of Connectivity with WiFi 7 and X70 5G Chips” for more) that should help with the application—as well as with next-generation smartphones. Specifically, they announced the ability to temporarily increase the transmit power of their modems (which can both increase upload speeds and improve download reliability) via a technology called Smart Transmit 3.0. Basically, it allows the modem to smartly balance the overall transmission power of the device by determining when the WiFI or Bluetooth radios are not in use and then giving that extra power to the modem on a dynamic basis.
The company also announced the ability to enable mmWave-based 5G connections on a standalone basis, without the need for a sub-6-based anchor band as they have previously required. What this means is that for carriers who want to use mmWave to deliver wireless broadband services (as Verizon is doing for some of their 5G Home customers), they can do it without also having to deploy a sub-6 network at the same location. In other words, it should make it a bit more cost-effective and a bit easier for them to do so.
Beyond FWA, Qualcomm also discussed a number of technologies related to 5G-powered IoT (Internet of Things) and edge computing applications. Specifically, the company announced a new addition to their robotics platform, called the RB6 platform, as well as a fully autonomous mobile robot (AMR) reference design they call the RB5 AMR based on the company’s previous RB5 platform.
The AMR reference design pre-integrates the RB5 platform’s AI and 5G capabilities and is designed to make the process of prototyping industrial applications, delivery robots and other mobile applications significantly faster and easier. The company previously released an RB5-based reference for drones and other flying applications called the Flight RB5 5G Platform.
For the new RB6 platform, Qualcomm added support for mmWave and several other global 5G frequency bands and increased the AI capabilities, with support for between 70-200 TOPs of Int8 AI inference performance. In addition, the RB6 offers an upgrade path to support 5G advances coming in the 3GPP’s forthcoming Release 16, 17 and 18 via slots for expansion cards. Like the company’s previous robotics platforms, the RB6 also comes with a number of software development tools including the company’s AI Software Development Kit and their Intelligent Multimedia SDK.
From a pure technical specification perspective, both the RB5 and RB6 platforms share a number of similarities, as they both leverage some of the core IP that’s also found in the company’s Snapdragon like of mobile SOCs. Both are based on a Kryo 585 CPU, Adreno 650 GPU, Spectra 480 Image Signal Processor (ISP) and a Hexagon DSP, though the RB6 ups the performance there. Though some may find that surprising, it’s actually part of the company’s stated strategy to leverage some of their key developments across a range of products, industries, and applications. Each of the platforms also comes with a camera and integrated computer vision support, which can be used in a wide range of applications.
Finally, Qualcomm also made announcements related to 5G network infrastructure equipment via a new partnership with Vietnam-based telco carrier Viettel. As part of the new deal, Viettel will work with Qualcomm and use the company’s freshly released DU X100 RAN Accelerator Card, as well the Massive MIMO QRU100 RAN Platform. Like a similar recent announcement with Japan-based Rakuten, the Viettel partnership news highlights Qualcomm’s efforts at both extending its reach into network infrastructure equipment, as well as pushing the adoption of 5G Open RAN architectures, which many believe will be critical to the acceleration of 5G’s capabilities.
Taken together, the news announcements from the company’s latest 5G Summit make it clear that Qualcomm’s has clearly begun to extend its reach beyond the 5G smartphone market.
Disclosure: TECHnalysis Research is a tech industry market research and consulting firm and, like all companies in that field, works with many technology vendors as clients, some of whom may be listed in this article.