Qualcomm plants stake in 6 GHz ground

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It's not just about cellular modems; Qualcomm's a big supplier to the Wi-Fi ecosystem as well. (Qualcomm)

Qualcomm is a well-known pioneer in the cellular space. It championed CDMA – an alternative to GSM, proving naysayers wrong. Today, it's a leader in 5G, contributing to the 3GPP standards process and boasting its third-generation 5G modem-RF system.

So what’s it doing in Wi-Fi? A lot, it turns out, which explains why it is so committed to seeing the 6 GHz band opened up for unlicensed services. The FCC will vote Thursday on a plan to make 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the band available while protecting incumbents.

Last year, Rahul Patel gave a presentation during Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi event in the San Francisco Bay Area. A little-known or shared fact, he said, is that in the previous four years, Qualcomm supported more than 4 billion unique end products that use its chipsets for Wi-Fi. By Qualcomm’s measure, it is the largest Wi-Fi radio-shipping company by volume, he said.

“It’s extremely important that we continue to innovate and we stay ahead of the curve and we do a lot of different things,” said Patel, who is SVP and general manager of the Connectivity & Networking Business Unit at Qualcomm. “Most of our competitors are in one or two segments.”

RELATED: Qualcomm shows it’s ready to support Wi-Fi at 6 GHz

Qualcomm is involved in supplying Wi-Fi products for handsets, PCs, routers, gateways, IoT devices and automotive. “I don’t know of any one company today that does that broad based of a multi-play as Qualcomm” in Wi-Fi, he told Fierce. There used to be others, but they sold off parts of their businesses. “We are doing a lot more,” by way of touching more markets with Wi-Fi. 

Part of its expertise came through Atheros, which became a Qualcomm subsidiary in 2011. Prior to that, Qualcomm had acquired Airgo in 2006.

Leading up to the 6 GHz agenda item, some wireless operators, who happen to be important customers for Qualcomm on the cellular side of the house, argued that some of the 6 GHz band be allocated for licensed services. They pointed to the need for more mid-band spectrum in the U.S. to support 5G.

But Qualcomm held strong onto its belief that shared and unlicensed spectrum creates new opportunities and expands the entire ecosystem, arguing in multiple filings with the FCC on its own (PDF) as well as with a coalition (PDF) of other big tech companies.

Patel noted that as people adapt to the “new normal” that is social distancing, for a period after COVID-19 becomes less of a threat, a contingent of people will be wary of venturing to stadiums and other large venues until things get as close to normal as before.

In a situation like that, wireless connectivity plays a huge role, and 6 GHz and the Wi-Fi 6 standard can support virtual and extended reality, so instead of attending an event in person, they can do so without physically being there.