Qualcomm's Chandrasekher talks baseball, hot dogs and small cells

Anand Chandrasekher

Anand Chandrasekher

with Anand Chandrasekher, senior vice president and CMO of Qualcomm

In April, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) announced that network engineers from wholly owned subsidiary Qualcomm Technologies Inc. (QTI) are working directly with Major League Baseball's MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) unit to address connectivity challenges in U.S. ballparks. Qualcomm's engineers will perform in-ballpark assessments and plan for wireless access optimization involving DAS, Wi-Fi, 3G and LTE. With the MLB All-Star Game scheduled for July 16 at Citi Field in New York City's borough of Queens, it seemed like the perfect time for FierceBroadbandWireless Editor Tammy Parker to speak with Anand Chandrasekher, senior vice president and CMO of Qualcomm, about the company's major league ballpark initiative. Following is a condensed version of that conversation.

FierceBroadbandWireless: What was the impetus for this partnership?

Anand Chandrasekher: Ballparks and sports arenas in general tend to be a microcosm. They are extremely dense and representative of what the state of wireless might look like if you want to project out five or 10 years. There are lots of wireless radios in action at the same time, etc. whether you go to a baseball park, football stadium or what have you. They are very, very dense and congested environments from a wireless standpoint and messy. So they can actually make perfect test beds for us to prove our technologies and are able to help out in terms of deployed technologies with an eye toward what might be happening in the future.

FierceBroadbandWireless: Why was Qualcomm brought in to do this assessment?

Chandrasekher: Major League Baseball is an early adopter of a lot of technologies and certainly has been an early adopter of the digital trend as well. They want to make the fan experience inside of these stadiums much more robust. Qualcomm has history of working with operators on a worldwide basis. Because we don't sell any equipment to the operators, they often view us as an independent observer and a company that can help them analyze their network and optimize it. What we are doing for MLB is conducting an analysis for them on a ballpark-by-ballpark basis, making suggestions on how to deploy the network and make the fan experience a whole heck of a of a lot better. It's over two years. The analysis has started. The work itself in terms of making improvements in ballparks will start next year and will be a rolling process over the next two years or so.

And it's not just about Wi-Fi and cellular plus Wi-Fi. In some cases we will also deploy what we call our small cell technology to effectively overall improve the throughput and the experience. Today when you have 30,000 fans in the stadium, sometimes you're not able to get a cellular connection. How do you address that so all of them have a great experience? That's what we're looking to resolve in partnership with MLB.

FierceBroadbandWireless: You've talked about integrating Qualcomm gear into the ballparks, but, as you said, Qualcomm doesn't sell network equipment. What exactly is Qualcomm contributing technology-wise?

Chandrasekher: At a fundamental level, a lot of the wireless technology that gets deployed, whether we build it or not, has our technology in it by virtue of the innovations that drove the invention of that technology. So that's one level I'm referring to. At a second level--I used the example of small cells--small cells is a technology that we're in the process of bringing to market to effectively increase the capacity in these areas by splitting the spectrum that's available for use in that domain but also addressing the radio interference issues that exist in these kinds of very congested environments. In a very cost-effective manner you can actually deploy [small cells] and still have a managed network, but [we're] bringing the cell tower much closer to the point where the devices are being deployed.

So there's technology from the standpoint of the innovation that we bring to bear and in the analytical tools that we bring to bear. But there's also technology from the standpoint of small cells. That's technology that we would partner with operators on to bring to bear in this environment.

FierceBroadbandWireless: What happens once the ballpark assessments are completed? Does MLBAM plan to issue contracts based on Qualcomm's recommendations? Or will MLB go back to operators and suggest they buy new equipment or move network components?

Chandrasekher: Our relationship with the MLB is providing on a ballpark-by-ballpark basis a blueprint, if you will, for how they ought to be deploying the network with their partners--operators and others--for optimal fan experience. That's our role in this. In terms of who the MLB will contract with in order to do that, that's an MLB role. Part and parcel of our engagement with MLB also will be that once they partner with whoever they're going to partner with to get the blueprint built out, then we will come back and do an assessment to say, "OK, this is doing the job as it was intended to, or there is some tweaking and tuning that needs to get done." We will do that as well.

FierceBroadbandWireless: Is what you're doing with MLB limited to connectivity or are you doing other things, such as helping with app development, planning for LTE broadcast or enabling other bigger and better things down the road?

Chandrasekher: We're looking at the fan experience overall. So part of the fan experience is what we just talked about, the connectivity piece of it. But there's another part of the fan experience, and MLB has looked at some of the technologies we have such as [context-aware platform] Gimbal and [augmented reality platform] Vuforia, for example, which can bring a different experience to the fans via their mobile devices and their handsets. You can order a hot dog from your seat and have it delivered to you. How do you enable that? Some of the technology I just articulated could enable that. So that's another area that's been looked at, but I wouldn't say that's a done deal at this point.