Operators in regions such as Europe, Asia and the United States have started the 5G race with commercial launches this year. RCR Wireless News interviewed Ignacio Contreras, director of marketing for 5G of Qualcomm, to learn more about the company’s vision on the current status of 5G and the future of this technology
Q: Global operators have been deploying 5G networks faster than what the industry initially expected. What is Qualcomm’s vision in this regard?
A: What we see is that 5G technology is being deployed very quickly both at network levels and in terms of device availability. Supposedly, 5G technology was not going to be commercially launched this year. A couple of years ago, the industry expected the first commercial deployments in the 5G segment to take place in 2020. Today we have more than 30 5G networks in China, Europe, the United States, Korea and Australia and the leading Android device manufacturers have already launched devices for this technology.
It is interesting to note that the first year in which 4G was launched there were only three or four networks that were launched commercially in the United States and Europe and few devices available supporting the technology. China did not enter the era of 4G massively until three or four years after the technology was launched. What we are seeing now with 5G is very different, with China, Europe and the United States launching simultaneously. These operators are not competing to see who launches first but they want to offer 5G due to the ability of this technology to meet the growing demand for data from users.
Q: What role did Qualcomm play in the 5G acceleration process?
A: In 2017, Qualcomm along with other operators saw the need to accelerate the agenda for 5G and some initiatives were taken within the specifications for this technology to allow the commercial launch of this technology from this year. Some of these initiatives include the 5G NSA mode, in which 5G radios are mounted on the 4G core network, allowing rapid use of the new 5G bands without touching the core network.
Q: Are you seeing different deployment strategies in the different regions where 5G is already operational?
A: One of the things we see is that most of the deployments have been made with NSA architecture, since it allows accelerating the marketing of 5G. Another peculiarity that we see is that most of the launches are also being done with unlimited plans by the operators due to the capacity of the networks and it can already be seen how 5G technology allows companies to have new approaches to the business.
Q: And how do you evaluate the deployment of 5G by state operators in China?
A: In China we are seeing a very rapid deployment. Many people did not think that at this point the three state operators would have launched the technology. The deployment goals that operators have, which include about 50 cities by the end of this year and 1 million 5G base stations is a scale that nobody expected. This launch in China allows developing very important economies of scale for manufacturers of 5G devices.
Q: What perspectives do you see for the adoption of 5G in underdeveloped markets such as Latin America, Africa or specific regions in Asia?
A: There are always regions that launch before and others after but we see regions like Latin America that are ready from the point of view of infrastructure. Regarding the availability of devices, we already see 5G equipment globally in the order of $ 500. The launch in these regions depends more on the availability of spectrum. I believe that 5G will be a reality in some Latin American countries and in India as soon as next year. In some Latin American markets such as Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Argentina, there is interest on the part of operators with ongoing field tests. Once the spectrum is available, the launches will be given in an accelerated way since the equipment and infrastructure is already there.
Q: If we position ourselves at the end of 2020. What is the scenario that Qualcomm sees in terms of global 5G deployments?
A: At the end of 2020 we see a world of 5G very different from what we see today. What we will see during the next year is that 5G will not only be available on premium devices but also on mid-range devices and other types of devices such as PCs and Internet with FWA technology. We will also see national coverage in some countries by the end of next year with the availability of lower 5G bands such as 2.5GHz and 3.5GHz. This will also be complemented by Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), a technology that allows operators to use any spectrum band they have available for 4G to offer 5G without the need to make a spectrum re-farming. We will also see operators in 2020 launching 5G with millimeter wave and sub-6 technologies simultaneously. At the end of the day, it’s all the same 5G. That is why we will see a lower level of debate about whether millimeter wave or sub-6 is convenient since operators are going to look for all available bands. We will see millimeter wave in other countries outside the United States, such as Japan, Europe and South Korea over the next year.
Q: What scenario are you seeing for commercial launches of 5G with SA architecture?
A: In the second half of 2020, we are going to see the transition of some operators towards the SA architecture, in many cases supported by DSS technology, which will work as an enabler for this transition towards SA architectures.
Q: You talked about 5G in mid-range devices. In which price range are you seeing 5G devices in a year? What is Qualcomm doing to make the adoption of 5G more massive in the coming years?
A: Qualcomm has announced that from 2020 we will have available Snapdragon platforms in the 800, 700 and 600 series that enables a wider range of products using 5G. We have seen some market signals that estimate that in China 5G devices could be seen in the range of $ 300 next year. We have a product portfolio that allows you to quickly bring 5G to a range of products beyond the premium segment.