Inc, the world’s top mobile chip supplier, said India must not go slow on
as deployment of this next-gen wireless broadband technology will determine its economic fortunes, competitiveness and the fate of its local manufacturing ambitions. The company’s president
told ET’s Kalyan Parbat that the US chipmaker’s 2020 plans include making its 5G chipsets available in the average $250-350 price band from current $1000-plus levels, to drive affordability. Edited excerpts.
Q: 5G devices phones powered by Qualcomm’s latest 5G mobile chip, the Snapdragon 865, will be commercially available by early-2020. But India, a key market for Qualcomm, is yet to even go 5G. Does that bother you?A: No, it doesn’t, because unlike 3G and 4G, 5G wireless technology is not unique to public (telecom) networks alone, and India can take advantage of that. While it may take longer for telcos to build 5G (with spectrum auctions yet to happen), India could start with private 5G networks for university campuses, enterprises, industries, and in turn, leverage the transformative power of 5G. This would create opportunity for India to modernise other industry sectors such as manufacturing, and also create expertise and human capital capabilities for the 5G transition.
Q: But doesn’t India need to speed up its 5G act?A: Indeed, it’s in India’s best interest, from both a society standpoint, as we are in a connected society, and also from an industry standpoint, not to be late with 5G as the technology will drive digital transformation of enterprises, and also determine whether a country has competitive industries or not.
Q: In what way?A: Democratisation of manufacturing is rapidly moving away from very large (traditional) Asia-based factories to smart factories with 3D printing, connective robots and distributed manufacturing. So our message to the Indian government is that there are far greater implications of 5G for the Indian economy and its competitiveness than whether mobile users need 5G or if carriers are ready to invest in the technology. It’s important to look at 5G as the basic infrastructure for connecting to the internet. Also since spectrum is the key for 5G’s success, it’s important to price it cost-effectively to promote build-outs of broad and pervasive 5G networks in India.
Q: Is adding 5G capabilities to its lower-cost Snapdragon 765/765G chips part of Qualcomm’s strategy to take 5G smartphones to the masses?A: Qualcomm will bring 5G to every single tier next year. Throughout 2020, we will bring 5G to all price-points to make the technology affordable so that we can accelerate the transition and ignite the developer community.
Q: Will such 5G support be limited to the Snapdragon 7-series of chips for now?A: No, we’re not stopping there. There’s more chipsets to come that will also support 5G. The 7 series chips have been popular, including in India. As you get scale with 5G, it’s realistic to say that 5G smartphone prices will get closer to that of 4G phones currently powered by our 7 series chips. And it would keep going down as we extend 5G support to our 6 series chipsets and even below. Within 2020, every single tier of Qualcomm’s chipset roadmap, be it the Snapdragon 6 or 4 series chips, will support 5G.
Q: Where do you see 5G smartphone prices dropping to once that happens?
A: As you build scale for 5G, you also have scale for the developers and application service providers. Such a scenario could lead to the price of 5G smartphones – powered by our Snapdragon chips – dropping down to around an average $250-350 ballpark from over $1,000 now.
Q: Will Qualcomm’s $200 million global venture capital fund support Indian 5G startups?A: Yes, the venture capital fund is a global initiative to promote development of 5G applications. We want 5G to get developed in multiple, different markets, in India, in China and in Southeast Asia.
(The journalist is in Hawaii at the invitation of Qualcomm to cover the company’s annual tech conference)
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