Even executives at Qualcomm, which is trying to drive 5G as fast as it can, may need to adjust their expectations due to the speed at which the industry is moving to the next generation of wireless.
During the company's fiscal third-quarter conference call last week, Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf was asked about the company's IP position relative to 5G and the timing of the standard. "I think in general, if you'd have asked me that question, a year ago, I would have said that it would have happened closer to 2020. Certainly over the last year and accelerating here over the last quarter there has been a real pull to push that in or to pull that in closer to 2018/2019 timeframe depending on what the deployment is," he said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript.
"And of course, we are going to support that with our products and with our standards submissions and all the R&D that we are doing. And as you would expect we are accelerating as well as protecting that R&D as we are repositioning the company for growth. And I think it will be a good story for Qualcomm here over the next decade," he said.
Mollenkopf said during his prepared remarks that many of the technologies enabling gigabit LTE will be common to 5G, including the use of more antennas, using multiple types of spectrum simultaneously, more sophisticated signal processing and more. "The mastery of these features in 4G will be essential to leadership in 5G," he said. "Many of these features are already being trialed or commercially deployed in phones using our Snapdragon 820 processor X12 LTE."
He also mentioned that Qualcomm is designing a new OFDM-based 5G air interface that will not only enhance mobile broadband services but also enable connectivity and management for the Internet of Things (IoT) and new types of mission-critical services. Qualcomm's 5G design is intended to get the most out of the wide array of spectrum available across regulatory paradigms, from bands below 1-gigahertz to mid-bands from 1-gigahertz to 6-gigahertz to millimeter wave, he said.
"Recent spectrum regulatory decisions and movement in the U.S. and Europe combined with progress on the spectrum regulatory front in China, Japan and Korea are good indications that the world is preparing for 5G," he said.
Qualcomm Technologies recently announced its 5G New Radio (NR) prototype system and trial platform, which operates in the sub-6 GHz spectrum bands. Designs implemented on the prototype system are being used to drive 3GPP standardization for a new, OFDM-based 5G NR air interface. The newest prototype adds to the company's existing 5G mmWave prototype system operating at 28 GHz and uses advanced beamforming and beam-steering techniques.
Speaking on CNBC, Mollenkopf was asked to comment on SoftBank's acquisition of ARM. "We have a strong relationship with ARM. We have a strong relationship with SoftBank. I think what you're seeing is something that's very much aligned with our strategy as a company. Everyone looks at IoT and they say this is going to be a tremendous opportunity," he said. "We think it's a tremendous opportunity to leverage the strength of the smartphone and to move that into an opportunity for us to use that as a springboard to growth into a new business. I think SoftBank and ARM probably see it the same way … I think the important component of being successful in the Internet of Things is not just the processor but also connectivity, having a broad channel and we like going at that business … and we think ARM and SoftBank will be good partners as we go along that journey."
Virtual reality will be a driver for higher-end chips. Asked about Pokémon Go, he said technically it involves many of the capabilities that you have to build in the smartphone business. "We think virtual reality, things like mobile gaming like you're seeing with Pokémon Go, which is just a tremendous franchise, we think those will be great drivers for the underlying technology that Qualcomm delivers," he said.