At the turn of this century, due to the comprehensive consideration of all aspects, Qualcomm strategically gave up the wireless system equipment and terminal services.
However, in the following 20 years, Qualcomm not only grew into an industry giant with a market value of 100 billion US dollars, but also laid a foundation for the development and prosperity of the mobile communication industry with its pioneering technology and business model.
Today, 20 years later, Qualcomm is back. Yesterday, Qualcomm announced the launch of 5g network infrastructure series chip platform, which is an overall solution for a new generation of open converged virtual ran (vran) network, including RF units, distributed units and distributed RF units, and supports a wide range of deployment scenarios from large-scale MIMO macro base stations to compact small base stations.
In my opinion, although Qualcomm has been evolving the small base station products, the release of the whole product portfolio including the macro station is a completely different concept. It can be said that Qualcomm has returned to the wireless infrastructure market, which has been separated for 20 years.
Why does Qualcomm choose to enter 5gran market at this time, what does it mean for the market, and what barriers does it need to cross to make a breakthrough in 5gran market?
Long track: more strength when meeting chance
From the content released by Qualcomm, the 5gran Series platform of Qualcomm provides a fully scalable and highly flexible architecture for the deployment of macro base station and small base station, supports all 5g function division options between Du and Ru, supports existing and emerging network equipment manufacturers to accelerate the deployment and commercial use of VLAN equipment and characteristics, and meets the 5g requirements of public network and private network.
From the perspective of schedule, the engineering sample of Qualcomm 5gran platform is expected to be provided to some network equipment manufacturers in the first half of 2022.
In the author’s opinion, the reason why Qualcomm chose to “attack” at this time should be for several reasons.
First of all, Qualcomm needs to continue to grow. The openran / VLAN market is big enough and the track is long enough.
For many years, Qualcomm has been the leader in the global smartphone chip market. According to the data of market research organization strategy analytics, the global baseband processor market sales in 2019 is 20.9 billion US dollars, and the top five manufacturers are: Qualcomm, Huawei hiss, Intel, MediaTek and Samsung LSI.
Among them, Intel’s exit and Huawei’s dilemma, although to a certain extent the gains brought by Qualcomm, need more market space, and need to “go out of the circle”, but it is difficult to completely “cross-border”, so we focus on the infrastructure market. In this area, Qualcomm can fully reuse its own wireless technology expertise.
Moreover, the market scale is large enough and the track is long enough. With the transition of the telecom industry to 5g, the next round of network transformation will spawn a $25 billion chip market in 2023.
According to the latest report released by Dell ‘Oro group, the global sales of virtualization openran technology is expected to grow at a double-digit rate in the next five years. In the forecast period, the cumulative investment of openran is expected to exceed $5 billion.
ABI research is more optimistic that openranru devices will flourish in the next few years, the market will surge to more than $47 billion by 2026, and will surpass the traditional ran device market for the first time in 2027-2028.
Moreover, now the industrial ecology of openran has taken shape, the enthusiasm of operators to participate has improved, and the downstream system equipment manufacturers or system integration manufacturers have begun to appear.
Secondly, with such strength, the market also needs new entrants with strength.
In my opinion, the strength of Qualcomm is relatively prominent. First, in a strict sense, Qualcomm has never completely left the system equipment market. Its small station product solutions have been evolving, and it is no stranger to the system equipment. Moreover, mobile communication pursues the whole network, and it is impossible for terminal chips to understand the system.
Second, at the level of standards evolution, there is no doubt that Qualcomm has a voice in industry standards organizations such as 3GPP.
Third, it is very good at chip design and function realization. 5gran chip is also a chip in essence, which emphasizes higher energy efficiency ratio and cost performance ratio, and focuses on the combination of power consumption, computing power, performance, cost and process.
Fourth, it is certain that the introduction of open ran / VLAN should start from small stations, which is what Qualcomm is good at.
It is not difficult to understand why the market also needs such entrants as Qualcomm. Whether it’s openran or VLAN, although it’s very popular now, if we’re going to do something about it, there’s not much choice in the market for underlying chips and computing power platforms. Especially for ARM architecture, there is no mature and commercial solution.
New market: good product is better mentality
In the early stage of the global wireless industry, Qualcomm sold chips and even system level products to the network infrastructure market. Now, with the introduction of 5g and the development of openran technology, it has returned to this field.
The market has undergone earth shaking changes as soon as it retreats and advances. Qualcomm’s journey in 5gran market is not easy.
First, openran / vran has to prove itself.
Road choice is the core topic. If this is not the right direction, no amount of investment will make sense. Of course, this is not an “operation” that can be completed by a single manufacturer. At present, in terms of performance and power consumption, there is still a big gap between the new architecture and the traditional architecture, and the cost performance and energy efficiency ratio are not high.
Behind the popularity of openran / VLAN, more or less driven by political factors, it has become a chess piece in the game of great powers. But I must say that in the future evolution path of mobile communication technology, politics can not replace the market to make choices. The division of global technology and industrial chain will only harm the industry and consumers.
Secondly, the product needs to be polished, there are countless pits to go through.
Openran / VLAN advocates openness (Architecture openness / capability openness), and openness requires hierarchical decoupling. However, for operators, hierarchical decoupling is only a means rather than an end, and the ultimate goal is high performance, high reliability, deliverability, operation and maintenance, and low cost. On this road, x86 architecture has been going for many years. In the face of complex application scenarios, generation after generation of chip iterations, version after version of optimization software, and increasingly rich open source stack, all these need to be verified and optimized by practice.
In this regard, arm architecture started relatively late, and the architecture itself has inherent deficiencies in performance and computing power. If we want to overcome these difficulties, we must face them.
Third, the reconstruction of industrial chain and ecosystem.
The position and appeal of Qualcomm in the intelligent terminal industry chain is self-evident. Although they are all 2B, there is a big difference between players and system equipment manufacturers in this market.
The mentality of “boss” is very important. How to integrate and be integrated, and meet the customized needs of equipment manufacturers or integration manufacturers, all need to change the team and culture.
Editor in charge ajx