Qualcomm generally uses its annual Snapdragon Tech Summit in Maui to unveil next-generation mobile processors and related technologies, which it accomplished with major new Snapdragon 865/765 and 3D Sonic Max dual-fingerprint scanner reveals today. But the bigger theme of the event is demonstrating real-world use cases for the company’s new 5G AI chips that will drive consumer demand for next-generation smartphones and devices.
Even though 5G data services are still in their earliest days, uptake from OEMs, carriers, and consumers has already been encouraging — stronger than 4G, by all accounts. Leading the event’s first-day keynote, Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon noted that over 230 5G devices are already either launched or in development, a staggering number given that networks are still in the process of launching worldwide. Nicki Palmer, chief product development officer for top U.S. carrier Verizon, said that the company is already selling seven 5G devices, whereas at the same time in 4G’s lifecycle, it offered only one.
Early real-world 5G use cases include considerably higher-resolution and faster streaming videos, cloud gaming, and facilitating next-generation user-created content, such as enhancing the presence of 3D imagery and high resolution 360-degree videos. Qualcomm also expects 5G will have a growing role in mixed reality experiences, including enabling virtual “presence” for teleconferencing and facilitating responsive augmented reality.
Going forward, Amon suggested that the separate domains of 5G and AI will be linked, noting that 5G cellular technologies will enable massive, low-latency data transfers between mobile devices and nearby edge cloud servers — quantities and types of data that will require AI as a processing intermediary. Amon predicted that 5G and AI will soon lead to a complete convergence of on-device apps with cloud services, effectively eliminating the present gap between a mobile device’s own hardware and the computing resources it can marshal.
“5G will bring to you a reliable, always-on connection to the cloud,” he said, which can be trusted to expand persistently connected devices with virtually unlimited storage and on-demand cloud services. Rather than relying on the devices to supply the processing horsepower for apps, they’ll draw significantly and seamlessly on cloud services — distributed intelligence — bringing about an age of “intelligent cloud connectivity.”
So far, the company is bullish on its 5G prospects, expecting to see 1.4 billion 5G smartphone shipments by 2022. Of course, the legwork to get devices into the marketplace is being undertaken by OEMs such as Motorola, Oppo, Xiaomi, and HMD/Nokia, each of which committed during the event to offering devices based on the new Snapdragon processors in 2020. While none of the companies offered specifics on its new devices, Xiaomi alone promised over 10 new 5G smartphones in the coming year. Qualcomm says that it has developed two- and three-chip modular platforms for its new Snapdragon offerings, and will offer OEMs similar options to spark the development of Snapdragon-based wearables and IoT devices.
Carriers will also be a major part of the picture, and uptake is positive so far. Amon said that the company expects 200 million 5G subscribers by the end of next year, and 2.8 billion 5G connections by 2025, aided by large numbers of network launches across the globe over the next two years. Without naming T-Mobile specifically, Amon embraced that company’s forward-thinking strategy of combining low, medium, and high frequency spectrums to create blanket, true 5G, and performance 5G service layers, noting that carriers will use dynamic spectrum sharing to transition their networks from 4G to 5G while continuing to serve both types of users.
Verizon’s Palmer also highlighted the 5G R&D work currently being undertaken at its five separate 5G Labs, which she noted was focused on developing use cases and bolstering hundreds of companies with creative 5G ideas. She also claimed a new “world’s first,” saying that Verizon has just become the first carrier to offer 5G on a beach, regrettably underscoring the company’s odd 5G launch strategy of covering only small segments of select cities with short-distance millimeter wave 5G towers. The company has promised to offer 5G data service in “parts of” 30 markets by the end of 2019, up from fewer than 20 — plus some NFL stadiums — today.