On this special episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast – Interview Series, host Daniel Newman welcomes Rahul Patel, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Connectivity and Networking Business Unit at Qualcomm. The conversation centered around new Qualcomm announcements including the WiFi 6 extension.
Rahul and I spent time discussing the shift to a remote work environment for a big company like Qualcomm. Like all companies, the shift was almost overnight with employees needing to work from home, but unlike most companies, Qualcomm still needed some employees to be on-campus to continue manufacturing. The leadership team worked to equip employees with what they needed to work safely and efficiently, regardless of location. Qualcomm relied heavily on the existing infrastructure to support the necessary changes. And thanks to years of planning, Rahul shared that the company was virtually unaffected by the switch.
Bringing WiFi 6E to market. Rahul shared the exciting news around the WiFi 6E launch as a result of the FCC opening up the 6 gigahertz spectrum. He explained that this additional expansion is like taking a highway during rush hour and making it two and a half times the original size. Now users have the original highway and the new larger highway to use to get connected. In terms of networking, this means apps are going to be moving into the six gigahertz spectrum.
Building devices to be faster. Rahul also discussed the impact WiFi 6 and 6E are going to have on our devices. Qualcomm is building devices that will be able to operate in the fast lane of the highway. For applications, this means that low latency, high speed applications like gaming, virtual reality and augmented reality are going to be more realistic. Other benefits include better connectivity and fewer interruptions as the network can handle more devices. Hopefully these devices will be deployed by the end of this year or early part of 2021.
WiFi 6 and 5G go hand in hand. While most of our conversation focused on WiFi 6, we also examined how 5G networks will complement WiFi 6. Rahul explained that 5G is your wide area network and WiFi 6 is your local area network. If you have one without the other, you’re not going to realize the full experience of high speed connectivity. Qualcomm just introduced an access point portfolio called Network Pro Series that goes from supporting highest end performance in excess of 10 gigabits per second WiFi capability to three gigabits per second. Customers can build a network to scale from a hotspot in a coffee shop to something that will cover a stadium.
Bringing it all home. Lastly, we discussed where this technology will likely go in the future. Rahul shared that Qualcomm is looking at an enterprisation of the home. We have more devices that need to be connected. We are streaming more and needing better connectivity speeds. And that’s likely going to continue as we bring in other technologies like VR and AR. Qualcomm is working on bringing the technology together for a platform approach that ultimately presents the holistic experience to the end consumer. Consumers don’t need to know what the technology is, they just need to be able to get connected.
I can’t wait to see what else Qualcomm builds and where it takes our technology. If you’d like to learn more about Qualcomm’s announcements, be sure to check out their website.
Check out the full podcast episode below. It’s one you don’t want to miss.
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Daniel Newman: Welcome to the Futurum Tech Podcast. I’m your host today, Daniel Newman, Principal Analyst, and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. And I’m excited about this special insider edition of the Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series, where we have Rahul Patel of Qualcomm joining us today. Rahul, welcome to the Futurum Tech Podcast.
Rahul Patel: Thank you Dan, great to talk to you.
Daniel Newman: Yeah, I’m really excited to have you here. I love getting executives from the big tech space that are doing really interesting and innovative things to come onto the show. As an analyst, it’s kind of like the new modern way of communication. We used to do everything in a briefing and behind closed doors, but now as the analyst takes the role of a little bit of the media and the personality and the opinion leader and opinion maker, these kinds of conversations are just a great way for companies and analysts to sort of share and spill what’s going on in tech. And I know you’re working on a lot of things, so I’m going to be asking you some questions to get you both sharing and spilling. But before we jump in first and foremost, it’s always really important to take a moment to just introduce our guests. Rahul Patel, if you don’t mind, tell everybody a little bit about the work you do, your role, the work you’re doing at Qualcomm so I can set the stage for the rest of this interview.
Rahul Patel: Great. Thanks, Dan. As you say, I’m Rahul Patel and I am managing and leading the connectivity, networking business unit at Qualcomm. And for your viewers, what you can think about is from product point of view, average consumer may run into our products through access points to the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, FM in the phones, smartphones and the PCs, and also interesting products around durables and variables. Your headsets, wireless headset, especially your ear buds and your smartwatches and trackers. I think those are the products that you can think coming out of connectivity and networking. And we have an exciting set of teams around the world and building some, and great products that ultimately reach the consumer. And so we get really jazzed up about, fortunately that we have ahead of us.
Daniel Newman: Yeah, absolutely. That was a really humble introduction, Rahul, because when you say lead, you’re the senior vice president and GM, which is a pretty significant role at a company the size of Qualcomm. And just for everyone out there, Rahul has a really significant responsibility, a large team, and he’s doing some really interesting work with that team. And I point that out because you’ve mentioned some things. You mentioned networking, IoT, hearables, wearables, which by the way, I’ve had the chance to play with some of the awesome wearable hearable headsets. I have a few of those and some of them have absolutely been fantastic as a traveler. Especially some of the noise cancellation headsets that you guys have been working on. But I only point that out because people think about a lot about Qualcomm, they think about mobile devices, connectivity, chips that go into to phone.
You think about your mobile devices and that’s kind of a lot of times, but the company’s working on some really interesting things outside of mobile devices and a lot of those things fall into your world, Rahul. I’m really excited to kick off this conversation with you. I do want to ask you though, I always ask people, we are in this stay at home play. We used to talk about travel. We talk about that, but no one’s traveling right now. When I get someone like you on the horn, I always like say, where are you right now? Where are you settled in, bunkered in at this time of our slowly opening up, but still mostly at home economy?
Rahul Patel: I am physically in San Jose, California, but virtually everywhere. And courtesy of a very nice wireless connectivity I can be anywhere in the world with my colleagues, teammates around the world, as well as my customers. And so it’s how you look at it. Definitely sounds like California is where my home is. My office is, work place is, but today in this world, virtually wirelessly connected to anywhere in the world.
Daniel Newman: Yeah. If I had to make up a statistic for the number of guests that I have that are in San Jose or that Bay area, given what we do being industry tech analyst, I’d say you’re in that upper part of a 50 something to 60 something percent, although that’s an unofficial statistic. But it’s a great part of the world to be. Definitely one of the parts of the world driving some of the most important innovations that we are all experiencing. Of course your company down there in San Diego, but again, all over the world.
Let’s talk about that all over the world thing for a moment here. Last week on my other podcast, the Six Five podcast that I do with another analyst, Patrick Moorhead, we had the opportunity to have your president Cristiano Amon, come on. And we had a discussion with him about how he viewed leading Qualcomm during the COVID-19 pandemic. And he talked a lot about virtual R and D and building new products. And throughout the show, I’m going to talk to you about some of the new announcements, some of the launches, some of the things you have going on, but I’d love to hear from you about your role in basically leading a team, building out new products, creating announcements, marketing, all the things that you had to do. What has it been like doing this for the last two and a half months with a mostly virtual team?
Rahul Patel: Yeah, I think it’s been an interesting experience to say the least, largely because no one has experienced this kind of situation in the past. And having said that, we are largely a hardware centric company where we build physical things like chips, semiconductor chips, we need labs, we need access to computers, high speed networks, all kinds of things. And I’m really proud of the larger team, how they have adjusted and accommodated the challenging times that we have in the macro environment and adapted to new ways of doing things and quickly got back into a place where we see absolutely no impact on our execution as a result. And so we have a nice balancing act. We definitely had an interesting challenge. Clearly we don’t have all the talent that we need in the world in one place in San Diego or in the Silicon Valley. And so we go around the world.
And so the situation that we had, the macro situation, came in waves. It started off in China first, then it came into the United States and the European regions. Now it is in India. These are big areas where we have a larger employee base and how we manage through some of these phases of the COVID-19 situations was very interesting and very well done. And I will also extend my appreciation for the larger team that helped us prepare the environment that led to the employees feeling safe and secure coming to work if they had to. And so there was a nice balancing act along with providing the employees the right IT infrastructure to work from home, for the workstation environment that they have or building networks and chips and stuff like that. And so a lot of work behind the scenes went into dealing with the environment and the challenges in the face nature of the spread of COVID-19 and also dealing with local government regulatory bodies and the rules and regulations and guidances as they vary from one region or in fact, one city to another city within the same country as well.
A lot of parts, a lot of detailed planning, hard work by a lot of folks behind the scenes helped us build an infrastructure across the world that was largely virtually supportive. And the execution was as good as it gets, in my opinion, flawless to a point where we see no impact on our plants. We’re bringing products out to the marketplace as we had before under the COVID-19 situation.
Daniel Newman: Yeah, it’s both been a real world demonstration of how this level of connectivity enables a business to run. You’ve literally been able to show in a weekend of going from running a business one way to another with connectivity could completely shift it and make it possible. The other thing that I think is really interesting and I wrote something on Forbes about this, was there’s a subtle kind of, I think a lack of awareness in the world about just how important the last decade of innovation has really been. I can’t imagine I’m 39. I just turned 39. I’m fairly young in the work world, but I can still remember in the beginning of my career, when I had my first cellphone, you would literally drive from one point to another and half of the ride, if you were riding an hour or two, you wouldn’t have connectivity.
That was the early days. And I was spoiled compared to people that were trying to use cellular 10 and 20 years before that. But being connected all the time, could you imagine the same type of lockdown without Netflix, without Amazon, without LTE and without high speed Wi-Fi and mesh and IoT and wearables, and hear, all these technologies? And I think a lot of people kind of subtly, a lot of this has all come to fruition in the last decade. Really become pervasive where we could use this. How about learning from home? How about literally overnight going, there’s a whole Zoom or WebEx ability to just take your classroom, virtualize it. We would have had students not learning. Companies would have been completely shut down. The damage that could have been versus what actually was. Now it’s just not to say any of this isn’t bad, but just how much worse it could have been. But the technology that you’ve been working on has been really instrumental in terms of making this difficult time, more palatable for so many and keeping the economy moving much more than it may have.
Rahul Patel: Yes, you’re absolutely right. I think at Qualcomm, we do a lot of R and D well ahead of the market needs. And it’s largely because, wireless connectivity, modulation, demodulation, and at times it is some form of black magic because it doesn’t come about very quickly together. It’s a lot of things that have to fall in place. It’s not only our designs, we have to make sure that it works with the networks and the infrastructure and everything else. Be it cellular, be it Wi-Fi, be it Bluetooth, all these technologies have to have end to end capabilities. And so a lot of good work has always been going on a Qualcomm, but this situation that we are in right now, what has happened is it has transferred into an exploration of our vision as a result of the needs for wireless connectivity and networking to be pervasive and ubiquitous for all the consumers around the world large.
Very excited about how the thing is all coming about. And it is effectively showcasing the value of the research and development investments that we have made and how valuable they can be in times like these, basically. A lot of our peer set in the marketplace usually are not as forward stepping in terms of the size of the investments that they make versus Qualcomm. And, this is one of those things that is very critical and central to Qualcomm’s culture, innovation. And this ultimately is what comes to play out in situations like this. And ultimately also keep us in the leadership position in what we do well, which is wireless modem designs and everything around it.
Daniel Newman: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s get into that for a minute. You talked about R and D and product development and speaking of product development and leading it during this time. Last week, you and your team made a few, a couple of big announcements pertaining specifically to Wi-Fi 6. Can you share a little bit about what was announced this past week?
Rahul Patel: Yes. We announced Wi-Fi 6E as an extension to Wi-Fi 6. And 6E is an interesting phenomenon that happened as a result of the Federal Communication Commission, FCC, US FCC opening up the 60 gigahertz spectrum. It’s an additional 1,200 megahertz of spectrum. Equivalent of another two and a half times of the spectrum that we have to work with today, which is in 2.4 and 5 gigahertz band. For the average consumer, they may not understand all this, but it is best to kind of put it in context of now you have a freeway that you are transacting on with your cars and vehicles every day it’s packed during the commute hours. And it’s frustrating. It’s disappointing. It’s not productive. It’s impacting productivity. Now you have a new freeway that’s two and a half times size the old freeway that you have to work with.
And now, the old freeway is also available. You got three and a half times worth of freeway available versus what you had to work with combined. Now the cars can move to the newer freeways, especially the faster cars, the cars that are going to be requiring high speed implementations and fast access to the network. Coming back to networking, what this means is your applications that are going to be data intensive, low latency are going to be moving into the six gigahertz spectrum. And so as Qualcomm, we build out a strategy and a plan four years back, summer of 2016 specifically, we wrote a white paper advocating the opening up of the 60 gigahertz spectrum. And now, on April 23rd, the FCC voted unanimously to open up that spectrum.
We were working all along to build out our products. In fact, in February, we demonstrated at Qualcomm, all there working in the six gigahertz spectrum. Long story short, that’s what we announced last week in terms of the products so that we will bring to the marketplace.
And so, as I alluded earlier, we talked about infrastructure and the smartphone, we bring on both products. Fast connect for the smartphone, networking proceedings for the infrastructure, which is the access point.
Daniel Newman: Yeah. And I want to hit on each of these because that’s exactly the way I sort of broke it down was you basically said, let’s make the phone able to handle these faster networks. And then let’s build the chip sets to help the network deployments power this on your devices when you hit the Wi-Fi network. Let’s start with fast connect. Talk a little bit more about it, go a little beyond the stats too, Rahul. What is this announcement going to mean? What can they expect as they start to invest in devices that are going to be able to support this fast connect technology?
Rahul Patel: Yeah. Fast connect is our capability for advanced Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2 into the smart homes and PCs. What this does is kind of helps these products, the PCs and the smartphones to kind of operate in that faster lane on the freeway. The new freeway that we build out along with the FCC. That is what this allows the phones and the PCs to do. Now, what that does from an application point of view, low latency, high speed applications like gaming, virtual reality, augmented reality are going to be a lot more realistic to realize, basically. You can be at the court side virtually watching an NBA game, which I’m sure is something that’s going to happen over the next few months or an NFL game. You may not be going to the stadium or the venue, but kind of wanting to have that same experience, that 3D setting around your eyes, basically.
Those are the applications you will see. And then in today’s world with multiple iPads, phones, PCs, connecting in the home, there is congestion in the home already. And so this allows these devices to kind of move to the newer freeway. The kids can be enjoying their gaming or schooling experience while parents are working and doing the video conferencing like we are doing right now and not have interruptions or dropped connections. And so, all kinds of benefits as a result of fast connect Wi-Fi 6E products.
Daniel Newman: Yeah. That’s really interesting you say that. I’m in. The second it’s available, I need it. As I said earlier in the show, it’s been a great opportunity to see what the network we’ve built is made of, and it’s certainly way better. But when the kids were on Zoom classes, I was recording and broadcasting, I saw the network really. I ended up running wire and deploying a managed physical hardwired network because the Wi-Fi just could not keep up with what was going on here, especially the up speeds. The down speeds tend to be okay in a lot of cases, but the upload speeds tend to really take a beating when you’re doing a lot of this stuff. That three and a half times is going to make a really big difference. Now, when will this be available in our devices? When can people start to expect to be able to enjoy these benefits?
Rahul Patel: As Qualcomm, our chips are now in the hands of customers. Our chips are in the hands of phone OEMs. Our anticipation is the next big launches will happen towards the end of the year, early part of next year. And that is when the Wi-Fi Alliance, the industry consortium is going to be putting out benchmarks to say, “This product can comply with what is needed for Wi-Fi operation in the 60 gigahertz band.” And so our chips are ready right now in the hands of the OEMs. Our anticipation is the phones and PCs start get to build between now and end of the year, part of next year, depending on when these a phone makers have parts.
Daniel Newman: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s pivot real quick because in order for this stuff to work, the network has to be deployed for these devices to tap into. And so that was the other side of your announcement was the networking pro series. Talk a little bit about that because this is a big launch with a lot of different types of products within it. It looks like home all the way to big venues. Talk a little bit about this and just if I can get you while you’re answering this question, think about this too. As a company that’s really the 5G company in a lot of ways, Qualcomm has become the 5G company, especially as we’ve sort of made this leap. And people are sort of sometimes I think, struggle to discern why we still need both. But this is really important. There’s a reason that Qualcomm’s not just doing mobile connectivity, but also is so invested in building out Wi-Fi 6.
Rahul Patel: Yeah, I think there’s two things. I’m trying to think of a good example. It’s like think of a sports car, fast sports car. You have this new lane that transacts really fast, four or 5G, you have a new lane or new freeway, similar to 5G for Wi-Fi. And you want to have a sports car that’s going to give you the best of performance. You want to make sure the engine and the wheels on the front and the back of the car, both are in synchronous basically in terms of capabilities. And so the way to look at this is, 5G and Wi-Fi 6E going hand in hand. 5G is largely your wireless WAN networks, wide area networks, and Wi-Fi is largely your LAN, local area networks. Something that’s in your premises. And so if you have a fast connection in your LAN with Wi-Fi, but you don’t have complimenting cellular connectivity to realize the performance of the Wi-Fi capabilities in the home, you’re going to not realize the total experience of high speed implementation.
These two go hand in hand, like the experience of a sports car, the front and the back, everything has to work very nicely. And I think these two technologies are very complimentary and essential for realizing that high speed, low latency experience you need. As Qualcomm, we introduced on the infrastructure side, access point portfolio called networking proceedings. And like you alluded to, it goes from supporting highest end performance in excess of 10 gigabits per second Wi-Fi capability in infrastructure, to something that will be in the three gigabit per second range. The entire SKU map can help our customers build one software implementation and scale from high end price, a stadium to a mall, to a hotspot in a coffee shop, to what’s needed in the home. And then in the home as well, we are building our mesh solution. Wi-Fi mesh solution using the networking process.
Long story short, they all go together. Number one, we are building out the infrastructure to build in the home access point, as well as the enterprise venue access point. I would also add, we are building in 5G CPE, customer premise equipment where your broadband is 5G and your access to that broadband comes through WiFi 6E. We’re building out all kinds of solutions for our customers can bring them back into the networks that we all work on today.
Daniel Newman: Yeah. Like so much of the world, the future is hybrid. I just think of it this way. There’s so many instances where a great high speed Wi-Fi experience would be ideal. That we still struggle. Like stadiums. Ideally, we’re going to be back in stadiums soon. And in order to get a full, the whole immersive AR, VR, retail, all the experiences of being able to order food to your seats, things that are really future concepts, assuming we get back in stadiums sometime soon, really depend on great connectivity. And so often that connectivity does not exist today. And the demands on a WAN network, the mobile network in an environment with 60 and 70,000, it’s very hard to get great coverage. Now again, 5G will make it better. And these deployments and all the tech that’s being worked on, but a dedicated high end, with this type of networking pro series technology that basically and a device that supports it.
You got fast connect, you’ve got networking pro, you’re in the stadium, you’re on WiFi 6. You want to see a real time replay in full AR, that’s how that’s going to happen. And like I said, they coexist. I think you gave a great, that’s a great run through. That’s a great example. Let’s just, let me take you to my last question. I want to get off the, the, the announcements, very exciting stuff. I recommend everybody that’s out there listening, definitely go check out these announcements, keep your eyes on what’s going on. And also now keep your eyes on the OEMs to hear. And when you’re thinking about your next device, are you paying attention? Is this technology in the device? And if you’re on the network and infrastructure side, as you’re building out your offices, your home offices, does the technology you’re investing in, putting in your workforce’s office support the fastest connectivity? Because if we’re going to be meeting like this forever, this technology is going to be really important to make sure workers are as productive as possible.
But let’s talk about this at the broad level, Rahul. You’re senior leadership, an executive, you’re watching and paying attention to these trends, where’s this all going to evolve? What’s going to be worked on next? What should I be thinking about as an analyst that’s important in your everyday work as a vision of what you and Qualcomm is driving about a future of increased connectivity?
Rahul Patel: Yeah. I think a couple of things, what I am going to say is probably a word that is not in the dictionary, but I’ll say it anyways. Our vision is in very near term, in the next a year or two, there is going to be enterprisation of the home.
Daniel Newman: Enterprisation, everyone. Just note that.
Rahul Patel: Yeah, enterprisation of the home. That means there’s so much happening from a networking activity point of view in the home. It’s not just everything that we talked about, video content access, our data access, schooling, working from home. We today have security cameras, all kinds of IoT devices, but I would not be surprised, there’s a lot more things coming into the home. With AR, VR and telemedicine. Being at the court side, virtually. Our world is going to turn hybrid where you may not be in a lot of places at the same time as you would have been in the past physically.
And so we are anticipating that level of change. And our view is providing with the right platform approach, including wireless connectivity is going to be key. And what is also important is, be presented in a way that the average consumer, in this case I’ll use my mom. My mom does not need to know what is 5G? What is WiFi 6E? Or what is that full on technology? It just seamlessly connects. She does not need to worry about she’s on this network or that network. Is she connected? Is she connected on a user connection support the right levels of security? All of that from an implementation point of view should be taken care of by the core construction. And that’s what we are focused on, bringing a platform approach that ultimately presents the holistic experience to the end consumer, to our OEM customers.
Daniel Newman: Yeah, I think that’s true. It sounds like you and I see the world very similarly, this hybrid. It really is deep down about the experience. We talk to the industry with a certain number of acronyms and the vernacular is very specific because engineers designers, OEMs, ODMs need to think about these things. But when you and I are using this stuff, when our families are connecting to devices, laptops, mobile devices, tablets, watching Netflix on our smart TVs or listening in our hearables, we just expect it to work and fast connectivity, seamless, fast connectivity up and down really is the enabler of all this. And there’s a magic behind the curtain. And it sounds like that’s really what gets you and your team up and running every day, Rahul.
Rahul Patel: Yes it is. And I think we are very excited. Now, there are real problems to solve. Our engineering teams are very capable and already have their hands on these problems and clearly have had great solutions. And so every year when we launch new product, I come to think this is a new beginning. And that every year it’s a new beginning in terms of our journey and some of the things that we do. I’m very excited about ultimately as a result of what lies in the future for Qualcomm, for the entire marketplace, when it comes to a wireless experience. I can’t thank you enough, everybody in my organization and my team in larger Qualcomm, would have helped bring some established products to the marketplace.
Daniel Newman: Absolutely. Rahul Patel, SVP and GM at Qualcomm. Thank you so much for taking some time and spending with me here on the Futurum Tech podcast, interview series. Your insights are tremendous. For everyone out there that’s listening, definitely check out our show notes. We’ll put some links where you can learn more about fast connect and the network pro series. Hit that subscribe button. Stay tuned with us. Lots more analysis, lots more great guests, executives from across the industry. You’ll hear more from us soon, but for now I got to go. See you later. Bye bye.
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