Qualcomm eyes mmWave rollouts in Korea, Japan in 2020

Investors continue to question the viability of millimeter wave (mmWave) technology, as evident during Qualcomm’s earnings call on Wednesday, but the chipset behemoth expects further adoption of mmWave technology in more regions beginning as early as next year.

Asked about mmWave performance, Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon said as new technology is launched, it comes with a lot of features but not all on Day One. Some of the initial battery life issues in the first-generation mmWave chipsets already have been addressed through software updates, and “we’ve seen a full day battery life” on existing first-generation chipsets, he said.

In the second-generation Snapdragon, there will be further evolution of the technology and significant improvements in battery life and other features, according to Amon.

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In the U.S., three of the four carriers—Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile—right now use mmWave, and that’s where the first mmWave launches are happening. Going into 2020, the current assumption is mmWave is going to start coming into South Korea and Japan; the later part of 2020 and early 2021, it will start making its way into Europe. Right now, China’s launches are using sub 6 GHz.

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The expectation is that every market that has mmWave deployed will have mmWave attached to most phones in that market. In the U.S., the requirement generally is to have mmWave in 5G devices even if the operator has a mix of mmWave and sub 6 GHz spectrum that they’re using for 5G.

Growth in 5G wins

Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf said there are now more than 40 OEMs and over 30 operators launching or announcing 5G products and services, up from 20 OEMs and operators, respectively, at the start of the year.

Qualcomm now has more than 230 5G design wins, up from 150 in the prior quarter, where customers are using its RF front end solutions for 5G sub-6 GHz and/or mmWave. Qualcomm didn’t disclose the exact split between how many are mmWave and how many are sub-6 GHz.

Multiple OEMs are now shipping or have announced their second or third 5G device models using both the Snapdragon 5G core chipset and its modem to antenna RF front-end solution.

Qualcomm and Apple settled a long-time legal fight over licensing in April, and subsequently came to an agreement on a multi-year chipset supply deal. Analysts expect Qualcomm chips will be in Apple 5G iPhones in the second half of 2020, according to an AppleInsider report.  

Amon said the company continues to see incumbents providing 4G, but in 2020 with Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) coming on the scene, there’s going to be refarming of existing 4G spectrum to 5G, and that will further expand Qualcomm's revenue opportunity.

In South Korea, the migration to 5G continues at a strong pace, and operators there already have signed up 3.5 million 5G subscribers through September, a pace that’s faster than its migration to 5G. It’s also worth noting that China was a couple years behind on 4G, but operators there last week commercially launched 5G service.

Separately, Qualcomm Technologies today announced new study findings forecasting that 5G will generate $13.2 trillion in sales enablement by 2035. The IHS Markit 5G Economy Study, commissioned by Qualcomm Technologies, shows an increase of $1 trillion in 5G sales enablement by 2035 over the original forecast released in 2017, which estimated $12.3 trillion.

IHS Markit correlated the increase in large part due to the early completion of the initial 5G standard and the subsequent accelerated rollout. Qualcomm previously noted that 5G is undergoing the fastest rollout of any other cellular technology generation.