17 March 2018
The mobile industry is betting on 5G technology to convince users to upgrade their devices. But 5G is more than providing faster internet speed but also about connecting devices to the internet. Photo: AFP
The mobile industry is betting on 5G technology to convince users to upgrade their devices. But 5G is more than providing faster internet speed but also about connecting devices to the internet. Photo: AFP

Can Qualcomm maintain its leadership in 5G era?

Qualcomm has been the leader in the mobile broadband modem market over the past decade as it transitioned from 3G to 4G mobile network technology.

However, the world’s top three smartphone makers have refused to join the US semiconductor and telecommunications equipment giant’s plan to take the industry to the 5G era.

Earlier this month, Qualcomm announced that its Snapdragon X50 5G NRh modem family has been selected by a number of global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for standard-compliant 5G NR mobile device product launches starting next year.

These OEMs are working to commercialize 5G mobile devices for the sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum bands based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X50 5G NR modem.

Smartphone makers such as Xiaomi, Nokia brand licensee HMD Global, Sony, LG, HTC, Oppo and ZTE are among the first brands seeking to launch 5G products using Qualcomm’s solutions starting in 2019.

However, Qualcomm’s dominance in the smartphone processor market could face a new test as Samsung Electronics, Apple and Huawei have refused to join Qualcomm’s 5G camp. 

In the case of Huawei, that’s not surprising since the Chinese telecommunications equipment maker has been using its own components for its smartphones, and therefore it is expected to use its own 5G modem if it decides to embrace the new technology in the future.

Apple and Samsung, however, have been using Qualcomm products in their devices over the past few years, especially during the 4G era.

So the refusal of the top two smartphone makers to join Qualcomm under the 5G regime could affect the US company’s dominance in the mobile market as well as its exposure in the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and other 5G-related applications.

Leading smartphone brands are looking for ways to reignite the passion of their users to drive them to upgrade their devices frequently.

Apple is in the middle of a legal battle with Qualcomm, and it is even rumored that the technology giant founded by the late Steve Jobs is planning to sever ties with the US microchip maker.

Apple has accused Qualcomm of charging unfair royalties for “technologies they have nothing to do with”, but Qualcomm insists its technology is “at the heart of every iPhone”.

In order to reduce its reliance on Qualcomm, Apple has been sourcing its modem from Intel over the past two generations of iPhone. There is also speculation that Apple and Intel are collaborating on a new system-on-a-chip for 5G connectivity to be used on the iPhone and iPad.

Apple and Qualcomm have also reportedly discussed possible cooperation on 5G modem, but the talks are said to be very limited.

If that is the case, Apple may have already decided to fully rely on Intel for the latest 5G technology rollout on its devices.

Such a decision may not be good news for iPhone users as performance tests showed that iPhones using Intel modem are not quite as good as those using Qualcomm modem in terms of connection speed.

For its part, Samsung has developed its own Exynos chipsets for its devices. The Exynos 5G modem chip supports both frequency bands below 6GHz and high-frequency bands such as 28GHz and 39GHz. The chip also works with old telecommunication technologies such as 2G, 3G and 4G LTE.

The entire mobile industry is betting on 5G to convince users to upgrade their devices. But 5G is not only about providing faster internet speed, but also about connecting devices to the internet.

Smartphone users now want more than just high-speed mobile connectivity through their devices. They also want their devices to help them complete a wide range of tasks from reserving a table at a restaurant, booking flights, buying concert tickets and avoiding traffic snarls on the road. 

All these cannot be done without a customized solution backed by artificial intelligence, cloud computing and mobile connectivity.

Qualcomm may be just thinking about defending its market share in the 5G era, but other competitors are now going beyond connectivity and exploring new fields such as autonomous driving, Internet of Things and smart-city development.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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