2019 Rising Star Winner - Qualcomm's John Smee

John Smee, VP Engineering and 5G Wireless R&D Lead, Qualcomm

The FierceWireless editorial team has done it again. We’ve selected a slate of wireless executives who are on the rise. For 2019 we’re doling out the names of our winners, two per day, so that our readers have the time to enjoy reading their profiles. Later this week, we’ll post our popular Rising Stars poll, giving everyone the opportunity to vote for their favorite top executive to watch in wireless. 

John Smee is a Princeton PhD who oversees all of Qualcomm’s 5G research projects. Despite the academic nature of his job, Smee is highly focused on the realities of the market. He said his goal is to make sure Qualcomm’s “core R&D intersects properly with the commercial reality of getting things into people's hands … I really enjoy bringing those two facets together.”

Smee said that sometimes the commercial viability of a new technology isn’t readily apparent, and often Qualcomm showcases its R&D with the goal of educating the market. This strategy worked well with 5G, Smee said.


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“It’s really good that we kind of kept to that aggressive pace of bringing 5G forward in 2019,” he said. “If you build it and if you build it well, they will come.”

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Smee’s team designs and simulates new chipsets, builds and tests prototypes, and then works closely with Qualcomm’s product team on commercialization. Smee and his team members also make time to attend wireless standards body meetings. 

“I am looking already at where Release 17 and 18 need to go, in addition to making sure we have a very strong conclusion to 5G in our Release 16,” Smee said. “We do want to make sure that the Release 16 and 17 cellular expansion is done in a way that it meets the proper economic opportunity in terms of deployment, feasibility, cost and benefit, whether it's to consumers or even to new vertical markets.”

Smee named public/private networks and smart factories as two markets that he thinks can be better served by mobile broadband in the future. He said he tries to be “on one hand a skeptic and on one hand an optimist,” and he’s clearly comfortable imagining the future.

“There is an element where some suspension of disbelief is important,” Smee said.  “We are designing for an unknown future.”

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