Qualcomm’s Grob looks beyond Snapdragon's 10-year run

Qualcomm Snapdragon
Qualcomm introduced its first smartphone computer system-on-a-chip, the Qualcomm Snapdragon platform, 10 years ago.

Qualcomm is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its Snapdragon mobile platform, and what started out as a smartphone-focused platform has grown to include everything from drones to automobiles to wearables.

Before Snapdragon, Qualcomm was very heavily working on modem technology, which it is still doing, but since then it has really started to work on the adjoining technologies that are in a phone, like the position location, DPS, graphics, more sophisticated power management, camera interfaces and more, said Matt Grob, executive vice president of technology for Qualcomm Technologies.

Matt Grob
Matt Grob

“It’s kind of nice to look back over those last years and think about how far it’s come,” he told FierceWirelessTech.

Back when it was still developing what would become Snapdragon, Qualcomm went through a formal process of finding a name and ultimately landed on Snapdragon. Thematically, it works, he said, in that “Let’s get it done in a snap” fits with the “fast” nature of it. And the power of a dragon flying through the air is similar to how radios send signals. So, “fast power” comes to mind.

The company recently chronicled its Snapdragon milestones here. For trivia fans, the first Snapdragon-enabled phone was the HTC Dream, which was the name of the first Android phone.

So what’s in store for the future of Snapdragon? Qualcomm’s already got a 5G version on the drawing board and 3GPP is putting the final touches on the spec due to be ratified in December for the nonstandalone (NSA) version. Once that’s completed, the combination of gigabit speeds and low latency will lead to all kinds of new use cases, from industrial and automotive to robotics, medical devices and more.

Qualcomm is focusing a lot of its efforts in artificial intelligence and a key takeaway is that it has the ability to interface with not only cloud-based machine learning but also, to an ever-increasing extent, run deep learning and machine learning on the device itself because it is powerful enough to do so.

In an automobile, for example, if you want to recognize objects in the path and categorize them as road, sidewalk, pedestrian, vehicle, tree, building and so on, “you want to do that locally; you don’t have time to send pictures to the cloud” to get the answer back, he said.

There are many examples where deep learning works to improve the performance of smartphones as well, whether it’s improving the camera functions, battery life or power management. And with a 5G link, connections can be made even more capably to the cloud, and the cloud can appear closer from a latency perspective, thereby enabling new use cases.

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Grob also said Qualcomm views augmented reality and virtual reality together as a category that is going to get more widespread as the headsets improve and people demand better graphics, a smaller form factor and low latency, all of which are well suited ambitions that line up with Snapdragon.

As Snapdragon has grown to belong in many more things beyond smartphones, Qualcomm as a company is also diversifying, including doing a deal with Microsoft for Windows PCs powered by Snapdragon, getting more established in the automotive industry and competing in the datacenter space where rival Intel is firmly entrenched. That’s part of the reason analysts said Qualcomm didn't need to entertain an unsolicited takeover bid from Broadcom, which the board ultimately rejected.

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Qualcomm is also an investor in the highly ambitious project known as OneWeb, which is on a fast track to produce and launch hundreds of low-earth-orbit satellites designed to offer affordable internet access. OneWeb founder and Executive Chairman Greg Wyler told FierceWirelessTech earlier this year that Qualcomm is supplying a chipset that’s truly revolutionary for the satellite industry and very much a part of making it all happen affordably.

Grob, who joined Qualcomm as an engineer in 1991 and worked on the early Globalstar satellite-based mobile voice and data system, acknowledged that Qualcomm is doing a lot of engineering work on the radio links and other technology for OneWeb. “It’s a very interesting project,” with the potential to improve backhaul and help spread the cellular footprint, as well as work with vehicles, ships and aircraft. “We’re real excited about that project.”