Qualcomm is spreading its wings in new directions in the 5G market, reportedly working on its own smartphone design, while also scoring a deal with Nokia for small cells.
Reports from the Taiwanese ecosystem, relayed by Digitimes, suggested that Qualcomm was working with PC and handset maker Asustek on a high end smartphone that would run on the chip giant’s latest Snapdragon 875 chipset, which should make its formal debut by year end.
The product would be targeted particularly at gaming, though it was not clear whether it would be a reference design to spur Snapdragon uptake among a broader range of OEMs; a customized product for Asustek; or even a co-branded device with the Snapdragon name included, on the lines of the old ‘Intel Inside’ labelling.
Digitimes’ sources said Qualcomm was focusing on industrial design and software as well as the chipset, while Asustek would contribute its experience with high end gaming smartphones, such as its existing ROG Phone 3, which is based on the Snapdragon 865+.
Qualcomm typically unveils its latest chipsets in an event in early December, ahead of the phone companies releasing their new designs the following year. Thus, this year’s event is fueling speculation that this could be the perfect stage to release not only its latest Snapdragon 875 chipset, but also its own mobile device.
Nokia has signed a deal for Qualcomm FSM100xx 5G RAN chipsets to power a new range of indoor small cells, which will be launched next year. The products will be called Smart Nodes and will address home and enterprise requirements. They will support the n78 5G spectrum bands around 3.5 GHz, and then support will be added for US options including n41 (T-Mobile’s 2.5 GHz, acquired with Sprint), n77 (the USA’s C-band) and n48 (CBRS).
The nodes also support NB-IoT, emergency call services, local break out and carrier-grade security, said Nokia, and could enable private as well as telco enterprise networks. Nokia said the new nodes complement its portfolio of 5G small cells, including the AirScale Micro Remote Radio Head and AirScale Indoor Radio.
Although several independent small cell vendors have already selected the Qualcomm chip – including Airspan, Altiostar, Baicells, Corning and Sercomm – Nokia is the biggest customer so far. Samsung, has also signed up for the FSM100xx.
Qualcomm’s senior director of product management ,Puneet Sethi, said the Nokia deal was a “big milestone” for the chip provider in the 5G RAN, because it was the first major product for sub-6 GHz, rather than millimeter wave, 5G RAN.
He repeated comments made last month, by Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon, that the 5G infrastructure market was a “big opportunity” for Qualcomm, especially because the momentum behind open RAN architectures – many of them gaining ground initially in small cell and enterprise networks – would encourage diversity in the vendor base, and the use of merchant chips.
This raises speculation about whether Qualcomm will venture further back into the infrastructure market. It exited the network side of the cellular industry when it sold its infrastructure chip assets to Ericsson in 1999. It has re-entered in a limited way since then – with 4G FSM chipsets for small cells, and with a now-mothballed development of a server processor, which would have been targeted at Cloud-RAN, among other use cases.
With the convergence of cloud and networking, the densification of the 5G network, and the move to open RAN platforms, the stars may align for Qualcomm to expand its activities on the infrastructure side.