Qualcomm and the 5G Ecosystem

on December 5, 2019

This week I have been in Maui at what for the past three years has been the curtain-raiser for the next generation of Qualcomm’s chipsets: the Snapdragon Summit.

This year, aside from Qualcomm’s technology innovation, especially around 5G, we also saw a clear ecosystem buildup of players from carriers to phone manufacturers, developers, and content creators all coming together because they understand the benefits that 5G will bring to their business.

It is clear to me that the road to 5G, as Nicki Palmer from Verizon very eloquently put it, is about like-minded people building an ecosystem, sharing a vision, and driving that vision forward to successful implementation.

We are still at a point with 5G when you either are very excited or highly skeptical. Supporters see the technology as a real game-changer not just for smartphones, but for a whole range of new experiences that will be delivered thanks to the connectivity that 5G brings. On the other end of the spectrum, no pun intended, are the skeptics who see 5G as yet another iterative step in the list of Gs that label cellular progress.

I stand more with the first group of people that see the potential that 5G brings. In mature markets where 5G will enable new experiences beyond just faster connection, but also in emerging markets where fixed infrastructure is not an option when it comes to delivering broadband to the masses.

I also believe that, despite the hype that makes it sound like we are already living in a 5G world, it will actually take a few more years before that vision of rich experiences delivered through 5G consistently and reliably will come to life.

This week in Maui, we saw Qualcomm orchestrating the ecosystem that will bring 5G to life. A set of partners came together to share their vision for 5G, and as I listened, it occurred to me that 5G will create opportunities for brands to reinvigorate their consumer presence.

Let’s start with smartphones.

Motorola and HMD are two brands that have been in the market for quite some time and have been delivering positive results but aspire to do more either by entering more price points or more geographies. They both could receive a powerful push from 5G, especially in the US. Carriers need options; they need a more varied list of suppliers, so they don’t end up with the same duopoly that has been ruling the 4G era. Consumers might still decide that such a duopoly is what they want, but carriers would prefer options. I see 5G as empowering both Motorola and HMD to grow by delivering more choices both in the high end and the mid-tier.

For Motorola, it is more about using 5G to re-enter the premium market building on the momentum created by the newly launched Razr while at the same time expanding their presence outside North America by continuing to deliver great value in the mass market play, now on 5G.

For HMD, it is the opportunity of getting into the US in a stronger way with the carrier channel. And hopefully, some carrier marketing budget. The pure Android experience HMD offers, coupled with its quality design and aggressive price point, would make a good addition to the 5G portfolio across carriers.

I believe both vendors can deliver solid products, but they need shelf presence and some marketing investment. And given most of the handsets for 5G are coming out of China (Oppo and Xiaomi were also announced at the event they will have 5G handsets with Snapdragon inside), supporting other brands means avoiding the risk of being caught up in any China/US politics.

Another partner that was interesting to see on stage was Dolby. A brand that we’ve known for many years and that has had a love affair with smartphones for a very long-time providing support for both sound and video, but often not getting the credit they deserved for their role as an enabler of a better entertainment experience.

Dolby was on stage at the Summit to present a new Dolby Vision for video capture running on the Snapdragon 865 that can empower content creators to shoot videos in Dolby Vision and then share such content across all playback devices maintaining the fidelity of the content.

The timing for this announcement could not be better given Dolby started to reinvest in building its brand at a consumer level as signaled by the ad placement during the latest American Music Awards. Music and film creators clearly understand the value of the end to end solution that Dolby brings both to video and sound. Still, many consumers outside Dolby Cinemas might not have been so aware of the role Dolby plays in their entertainment experience.

Over the past year, we have seen Dolby deliver their first consumer product in their Dolby Dimension headset  and more recently we saw their collaboration with Amazon on the Echo Studio the first product to incorporate Dolby Atmos Music

While consumers clearly appreciate sound, it has been interesting to measure how little sound quality plays in the purchasing decision for a smartphone. The quality of the camera, however, has been a clear purchase driver for consumers for the past five years. Over the past couple of years, as video started to play a more prominent role in social media, so has the importance of the quality of the video a smartphone can capture. Dolby Vision video capture speaks both to the power of the Snapdragon 865 and the different ways 5G will play a role in empowering consumers to do more with their phones when it comes to sharing quality content.

It is easy to get carried away from testing network speeds on newly launched devices, but that is not really what will get consumers excited about 5G. I also do not believe that we all should be waiting for a killer app to bring 5G to life. We better prepare to run the 5G marathon rather than burn out on a 5G sprint. The success for 5G will come from the combination of solutions like pushing AI to the edge, empowering cloud gaming and XR experiences, and delivering devices at all price points right from the start. Smartphones will be the first showcase for 5G, but more devices will come so that this technology will have many more touchpoints than any other mobile technology transition. They will not all materialize together, which is why being realistic about both the network rollout and use cases is paramount to avoid disappointment.