5G is Here. 5G is Real. At Mobile World Congress 2019, Qualcomm executives pulled all possible stops to send a message that 5G is not just another buzzword. The San Diego-based chipmaker has been the biggest proponent of 5G, and this year has been a watershed moment when the technology has transitioned from conversation to reality. At its booth, the company showed real 5G smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 5G alongside a bunch of prototypes from brands like Oppo and OnePlus. All these devices were connected to live 5G network, and Qualcomm sent a message to its rivals that 5G is not happening in 2020 but is happening now.

While there are others like Huawei, Intel, Samsung and MediaTek developing their own 5G modem for smartphones, Qualcomm seems so ahead that it is almost impossible to imagine a 5G smartphone without it. In order to double down its lead, the company launched Snapdragon X55, a single-chip multi-mode solution that will make building 5G smartphones even easier than it is with a Snapdragon X50 modem.

The Snapdragon X55 5G modem supports virtually any combination of spectrum bands and/or modes: 5G mmWave and sub-6 GHz, standalone and non-standalone modes, TDD and FDD, spectrum sharing, LTE and legacy modes (3G, 2G). At this point, Qualcomm seems to be simply showing off its technological lead in the 5G space but, the company is doing lot more put the next generation of mobile telephony in the hands of more users. In an interview with BGR India, Rajen Vagadia, VP & President, Qualcomm India spoke about 5G, its availability in India, Snapdragon 855 powered flagship smartphones, future of connected devices, always connected PC, autonomous vehicles and Qualcomm’s role in emerging technologies. Here is the excerpt from the interaction, lightly edited for clarity.

Rajen Vagadia, VP & President, Qualcomm India and SAARC.

Q: Let’s start by talking about 5G from the context of India. The consensus being that the very first phase of 5G in India will happen sometime in April next year. Do you see that happening? Or is it like some more time down the line next year?

Rajen Vagadia (RV): What you saw at MWC this time is something unique. This happens once a year. All of us are fortunate to be there when you see the first of the 5G devices, predominantly powered by Qualcomm, being launched at a global stage. You’ve seen these 5G devices and what you also saw is that these devices are coming from both international OEMs as well as Chinese OEMs. So, all these OEMs will launch premium devices ranging from what I understand is €599 for Mi MIX 3 5G, and it goes on to $2,000 for Samsung’s foldable phone. This is the gamut that you will see for the next few quarters where the range will go from as low as you can go, let’s say €599 you know.

What I see happening in India is these devices will come here when they get launched across the world, which I have time frame of Q2. 4G was not launched in India till 2015 or 2016, but devices preceded the arrival of network. So, in this case, we believe that 5G devices will become available in Q3, maybe Q2 for global markets and Q3 for India. Going forward, let’s say 2020, you’ll see a lot more models and devices coming in. I believe that all the premium devices will logically get converted to 5G.

We are working with all the carriers and every major OEM and all the ecosystem partners to bring this thing, which the globe is experiencing right now. We want to make sure that 5G comes to India and that this market is not left behind. We brought technology in 4G, like VoLTE, which was a premium service, but we have ensured that it is available pan India. So as a consumer, you will be able to see the devices with 5G support over probably third quarter of 2019. I’m excited that it’s going to be somewhere in Q3, where we will end up touching devices which are 5G enabled.

Q: From a layman’s perspective, all flagship phones coming out in Q2 will have Snapdragon 855 mobile platform. However, the difference will lie in the modem configuration they offer, boiling down to choose between Snapdragon X24 and Snapdragon X50. So, is it fair to assume that these phones will come with Snapdragon X50 multi-mode solution, but they will work with existing 4G networks?

RV: Every 5G phone will support 4G, 3G or 2G like 4G smartphones which fall back to previous generation of mobile connectivity. But to your question, I think what you may see is some OEMs may launch devices with SD855 and X24 predominantly because of the pricing, and support features non-existent on 5G. Secondly, there will still be OEMs who will go ahead and launch global devices that they have already developed with Snapdragon X50 modem.

Q: Qualcomm Snapdragon X24 modem has been around for some time, and has proven to be the most powerful 4G LTE modem. But, now that Snapdragon X50 is taking shape, will that result in Snapdragon X24 becoming cheaper and thus affordable for OEMs to integrate them in inexpensive premium devices?

RV: We are getting into the specifics of one modem over another and I would say the market is going to evolve, whether it is X24 or X50. You have seen how even 4G has evolved, and you now have an entry level 4G phone and then you know premium phone and a 4G feature phone predominantly powered by Qualcomm. So, this way, yeah, what you see in India has been a huge success in every sense to bring to the consumer at the low tier to connect the power of that, and we power even the highest. So, I would say you will see across the portfolio of devices, the use of Snapdragon X24 and Snapdragon X50. And at the end of the day, the OEMs will figure out what they want to support whether X24 based device or they want to showcase on X50. And that’s going to change the end pricing.

Q: Qualcomm is known for its work with mobile connectivity, be it through your Snapdragon mobile platforms or Snapdragon modem solutions. However, it seems like you are very much passionate about always connected PCs. It is, undoubtedly, an interesting segment but work from your OEM partners has been rather limited. Can you add some insights on evolution of ACPC from India perspective?

RV: I think ACPC is a wonderful concept. And especially when you look at it in the view of the 5G, you are always connected. One of the biggest problems that ACPC solves for us is battery apart from the comforts of being always on, just like your phone. India is always all about battery. We cannot move away from our obsession with battery in the longer life and that would be one of the key reasons for the success in adoption of a product like ACPC for Indian market.

Watch: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Always Connected PC First Look

Q: Do you see roll out of ACPC products powered by new Snapdragon 8cx platform from partners like Dell, HP, Lenovo happening exactly in the same time frame as it does in the US?

RV: OEMs will be able to speak more on that. I mean, what we know is that a lot of them are working on it. I would not be surprised if it doesn’t happen, but Qualcomm believes that ACPC has a huge market opportunity in India.

Q: Qualcomm has established itself as a leader in the mobile space, offering multiple solutions and patents in number of important technologies. What about opportunities beyond mobile, especially with things like smart IoT, connected factories. How is Qualcomm positioned in the Indian enterprise segment or connected platform segments?

RV: If you saw our MWC 2019 booth then it is representative of what we speak. You will see mobile is a part, and then you will see so much which is not mobile. If you would have come two years, four years, five years back, you will see a different customer. What technology like 5G brings is connectivity beyond mobile which we all know. Whether it’s connectivity in the industry, whether it’s in automotive, whether it’s in health, education. In every domain, Qualcomm is involved not just globally, it’s also locally, you know, in a very big way as we bring the best of the technologies to India, and we lead it on the mobile side and you will see absolutely that happening on all the other devices. One example of that I will take is smart meters in India. So, I’m just taking one example of one-use case of connectivity coming to India. The electricity meters – smart meters – we are very actively working to ensure that the solutions are designed and developed and installed locally. So that is going to bring a totally different change in the market. We have 250 millions of electricity meters that can get converted over a period of let’s say four or five years to smart. The leadership position in mobile is actually helping us to address most of this connectivity. Right in the various domains, you see all the associated devices. So, we wouldn’t be anywhere behind, we will ensure that India also has all that the globe sees.

Take example of another one, which I will talk about, this is my one of my personal favorites – WiFi mesh. Funny enough, that technology was more suitable for India but US has accepted it. If you see the adoption of that technology in US, it’s mind boggling. India is going to see that trend now. And we are bringing that to India too. India with all the walls and with what you see, there are TVs getting into our homes and smart TVs are coming at a price of around Rs 40,000 or lower. Each one of us has a second TV now, which is a smart TV, if we didn’t have the first one which was smart, the second one is smart. And that generally goes and gets installed in our homes inside. And we would say most of us will have a router in the living room and then you have coverage issues in the home. Use a WiFi mesh and see the difference. It’s unbelievable. Otherwise the smart won’t remain smart. So, I think that use case is getting solved by this WiFi mesh and you will see quite a few companies launching the product in India.

Q: So, you mean to say that Qualcomm will be working with companies like Google, Eero and others to bring mesh networks and deploy them in India.

RV: I won’t name them, but we are working with quite a few of them and you will see them coming.

Q: One of the interesting demos at MWC from Qualcomm has been WiFi 6, which in some ways, negates the need for a mesh network with its wider coverage and 8×8 MIMO? So, will you be bringing mesh to India on WiFi 6 or use older standard?

RV: If you remember, the first of the phones where 802.11bg then you had n then ac. We skipped ad but that was also there. What you are going to see is, you will have the WiFi mesh at one level, and then you will have the router on another level. Today, if you go to the market, you will find a router for Rs 1,200. You will have WiFi mesh, and solutions within the WiFi for home across all these technologies. WiFi 6 is new so that way, you will see that it will follow.

Q: If a new technology must gain momentum then it must do so by eliminating existing technology. Do you see WiFi mesh gaining interest among Indian consumers at the cost of boosters, which are widely used to boost signals?

RV: I prefer to explain the difference between WiFi booster and WiFi mesh. It’s amazing what WiFi mesh is, it’s definitely something which is multiple times better than what you see with a booster. It’s more managed in that sense. So, what we see is that the Indian homes will adopt the WiFi mesh so seamlessly that most of us will not even realize. It will just come into our homes, right, and we’ll just suddenly and very quickly see that oh, I have WiFi in every corner of my home. Subconsciously it will be there. We will install them and then, we will forget about them. I use that in my home, and I’ve seen the difference it creates. Now I almost forget and only time I remember it is if somebody switches off one of the nodes. That’s the only time you really want to touch it. Otherwise, this is so simple.

If you see the installation associated with it is beautifully simple. Router was more complex to install, than this WiFi mesh nodes. You bring it in home, there’s only one blue light, let’s say in one example, you just go and set it up, you just need to ensure that blue does not turn red. Put it to an extreme where you want to go in the home and install it. And I’ll say it gives you an amazing coverage. So, it exactly is what you would have received sitting next to the router, the source of your broadband at your home, you have it right there inside of every corner. And for each use case there are different out there. Even in the Mesh, we have different levels of mesh. A simple way mesh on some chipsets can be defined as entry level of the mesh to serve a home. But let’s say you have a larger home or a multi-storied home, then you will need a two node or three nodes, but it would go one step higher.

Q: Do you mind telling me which WiFi mesh do you have at home? Is it Google or something else?

RV: I mean there’s nothing like a personal favorite or whatever. You would see not just the OEMs you would have seen conventionally. Well, I’m not trying to be an ambassador for anybody, but I have a Netgear at home. But India now has started seeing many other brands. There are quite a few companies that are selling like Tenda Wireless, which is very big when it comes to low cost mesh networks. I think one of the online platforms they’ve been pushing it. So you’ll see a lot of this but it is amazing when you see the full potential of that WiFi mesh product and what it can do because what I told you is just literally not even 10 percent of the capabilities available. What I said is it solves your problem of taking the WiFi inside the home at every corner. I address that aspect, which was a fundamental problem its solving. What it does in the next level and the third level, it’s unimaginable because then you can stream between devices. I think the number I heard from some report was that at least 22 devices are connected in a home on WiFi. You can manage each of the device with this mesh where you can say which product should be given priority to access data.

Q: Coming back to Snapdragon in India, do you have any tentative number of devices that could come to India with Snapdragon 855 this year or next year?

RV: There was a report from Strategy Analytics which analyzes the smartphone market and was specific to India. I can only give you a percentage, but we will have lion share and might virtually be the only ones in the premium segment. It’s early so while all enthusiasm is there, I would say the global market will help India get those devices. All these brands which have become very popular, like Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi and OnePlus. These guys will launch new products and they will bring the best of technologies to India. This will help and indirectly help the networks. When you have the devices, it motivates the carrier to look at whether the ecosystem exists. For us to launch 5G, it becomes a lot easier because there are devices that the network can fulfill with services on those devices.

Q: One area where Qualcomm promised big changes was wearables, but Snapdragon 3100 never succeeded in revolutionizing Wear OS. The portfolio of devices on Snapdragon Wear are from companies like Fossil, Montblanc and Louis Vuitton. What is the future of Snapdragon Wear and how do you see that playing out in India, where wearables like Xiaomi Mi Band are very popular?

RV: I will answer this question in a little bit different way. Watches or rather anything that has to do with smart fitness will be more of a service than a device to us. While it all started as a connected device or a smart device, it has now merged with fitness. There was a fitness band which was going down a path and there is a smart device which is coming in and then both are merging and now you almost figured out that there is no difference between them. It’s only the price tiers which creates the difference between these devices. I think there’s been a merger in that what I see is going to happen is more than the adoption, all of these devices including 3100 wear devices evolving as a service rather than just as a device. There will be people who will offer services around that device. One of the popular examples of such a service model in India is GOQii. At CES 2019, we launched one product with Titan. It is a band but it also comes with gesture so you can control your phone, volume and even switch off your phone. It’s a very fast evolving market and I don’t think we should judge it at one step this year.

Q: So, does that mean you will have to refresh your platforms faster than you do in the case of mobile which is like once a year?

RV: For Qualcomm, the trend has been that we set ourselves a target and we beat it and then go on to set the next one. You will see that we set targets for ourselves on every front whether it’s wearables or other platforms but I tend to agree partially with you on that one that I think we should as a population have seen more wearables in India then what we have seen.

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