Qualcomm’s Amon looks beyond mobile with 5G, edge and cloud

During a keynote presentation at the start of MWC 2021, Qualcomm’s Cristiano Amon pointed to intelligent devices and the network edge, coupled with 5G and the cloud, as driving a decade of opportunity.

“We now stand at a decade of opportunity for us all. We’ve watched industries and enterprises accelerate their digital transformation efforts, with an ever-increasing number of intelligent edge devices connected to the cloud,” said Amon, president and CEO-elect who is officially stepping into the chief executive position July 1. “This is the trend that will drive the next wave of global innovation and where 5G will play a pivotal role.”

It’s one of the reasons he believes 5G will have more of an impact than previous cellular generations.

“Think about what’s possible when people and machines can reliably connect to the cloud 100% of the time, or what’s possible for AI when billions of intelligent devices are connected at the edge, providing contextual and real-time information to the cloud.”

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The mobile industry has proven connectivity and computing technologies to unlock this potential at scale Amon said, citing a massive 5G opportunity for automotive, industrial IoT and the connected enterprise.

More than 165 operators have 5G networks and over 270 additional operators are investing to deploy, he noted. And Qualcomm sees all spectrum bands at play, from lower sub-6 GHz with DSS to millimeter wave, the latter of which he said 180 operators in 45 countries are putting money into worldwide.

Expanding with infrastructure, automotive, and IoT

Qualcomm, known as a leading chipmaker for smartphones, is working to expand its portfolio in new segments to capitalize on 5G.

“Qualcomm is really executing on the opportunity for our technology to go beyond mobile,” Amon said during an analyst and media briefing. That includes automotive, infrastructure, and what he categorized as currently a very broad IoT category.

As players such as Microsoft look at a significantly increased total addressable market (TAM) with the cloud, he sees Qualcomm sitting on the other side of that cloud.

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“We are this intelligent connected edge that is sending data and interacting with applications hosted in the cloud,” he said. “It’s an incredible opportunity for us and that’s how we’re going to continue diversifying the company in addition to mobile.”

To take full advantage of 5G across public, private, enterprise, and home settings, Amon, during the keynote session, said networks are needed that are diverse, scalable, and adaptable with high performance and power efficiency in all scenarios indoor and out.

“As a result, network infrastructure is becoming more virtualized, modular and interoperable as well as becoming a platform for innovation,” he said.

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Qualcomm has made a stronger push into the network infrastructure market, with scalable 5G RAN platforms designed to support cloud-native virtualized gear spanning massive MIMO to small cells.  

That includes the new FSM200 platform for 5G small cells, introduced Monday, which the company says is the industry’s first 3GPP Release 16 5G Open RAN platform. It supports commercial mmWave and sub-6 GHz bands, data speeds up to 8 Gbps and is about half the size of previous generations.

It was built for use cases like connected factories, with Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC).

“With Release 16 we’re enabling 5G to expand from mobile broadband to new devices, services, and industrial and enterprise settings,” he said, noting features like side-link, URLLC and high-precision positioning.

In terms of infrastructure, Amon’s message for future architecture is, “if it’s not attached to a pole, it’s moving to the cloud.”

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Qualcomm on Monday also unveiled an accelerator card designed to plug into Common off the Shelf (COTS) servers, to offload server CPUs from latency-sensitive and compute-heavy 5G baseband functions.

He described the radio unit (RU) portion of the base station attached as a physical unit, but distributed units (DUs) fully virtualized, running on a general-purpose server – with a PCIe card plugged into the data center.

As networks become more virtualized, major operators in the U.S. are looking at a different way to buy, he said.

“They’re buying the servers from server companies and they’re asking the traditional vendors to provide the virtualized DU [distributed unit], just software, and Qualcomm is going to make that picture exist by providing a baseband in a PCIe card that connects directly to the server which is the virtual DU,” Amon said, adding they're very happy with the engagement so far.