Qualcomm's 5G demos attract automakers and manufacturers

Qualcomm CTO Jim Thompson explains his vision of distributed AI at Qualcomm's Future of 5G Workshop 2019. (Martha DeGrasse/FierceWireless)(photo by Martha DeGrasse)

SAN DIEGO — 5G is fast, but not fast enough to send mission critical data all the way to the cloud and back, according to Qualcomm. The chipmaker's research teams are focusing on distributed artificial intelligence, meaning that real-time computations needed to support self-driving cars or robotic factories will not happen in the cloud; instead they will happen on smart devices themselves.

"The decision about your car hitting the brakes - you don't want that to happen in the cloud," explained Qualcomm EVP and CTO Jim Thompson at the chipmaker's Future of 5G Workshop this week. "We think AI is going to have a much bigger impact at the edge [of the network]."

Qualcomm is championing the combined benefits of AI and 5G, and automakers and manufacturers are listening. Executives from General Motors recently visited the company's San Diego headquarters to learn more about its cellular-vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology. Qualcomm demonstrated C-V2X during its 5G Workshop, showing how communication between C-V2X-enabled cars leads to more efficient transportation. In Qualcomm's model, 25% of the cars on a hypothetical road are C-V2X-enabled, meaning that they can tell one another about traffic conditions and potential hazards. In addition, a stationery roadside device uses C-V2X in Qualcomm's model, offering more information to the connected cars. The result is less time and gas spent getting from point A to point B, according to the company.

C-V2X uses 5G for communication between cars and roadside devices, but it does not send data to remote servers to be processed. Data processing occurs in the vehicle itself.

In contrast, many industrial applications for 5G will rely on servers at the network edge to process data, Qualcomm said. The company demonstrated virtual reality glasses that could enable a group of workers to see and manipulate a shared 3-D image by communicating with a 5G access point at a server less than half a mile away. Qualcomm calls this the edge-cloud.

"The edge-cloud is milliseconds from the device," said Thompson. "It's the capability of the cloud, but closer to the device." He said the edge-cloud offers lower latency and more security. "Private networks would not want all that data going to the cloud," Thompson said.

Qualcomm is targeting smart factories as important future markets for its 5G chipsets, and it has already held discussions with Siemens, Bosch and Honeywell.

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Qualcomm also said public venue owners are starting to recognize the value of 5G, noting that football fans should be able to use the technology at the next two Superbowls. Verizon has already launched 5G at Miami's Hard Rock Stadium, and Tampa's Raymond James Stadium is expected to have the technology in time for the 2021 Superbowl. According to Qualcomm, fewer than 15 5G small cells will be able to support as much data traffic as 100 LTE small cells.

Disclosure: Qualcomm Technologies underwrote the cost of travel to and from this event.