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Big News for 5G Open RAN: Qualcomm Teams up with Vodafone – Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series
by Daniel Newman | April 30, 2021

On this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast – Interview Series I am joined by Gerardo Giaretta, Senior Director of Product Management for Qualcomm. Gerardo leads the 5G Ran Infrastructure Product team, which is experiencing huge growth right now.

Our discussion centered on Qualcomm’s recent 5G RAN partnership announcement and how that is going to impact the industry as a whole.

Qualcomm Teams up with Vodafone

My conversation with Gerardo also revolved around the following:

  • An exploration into Qualcomm’s partnership with Vodafone
  • Why Open RAN is such a huge focal point for service providers and network manufacturers right now
  • Who are the biggest beneficiaries of the partnership with Vodafone
  • How the partnership will likely evolve in the coming years

This partnership could be a huge opportunity for growth for Qualcomm who announced a renewed focus on network infrastructure last October. This technology could ultimately lower the barriers of entry for smaller service providers and network operators looking to leverage silicon for 5G base stations — which is an exciting prospect for the industry as a whole.

Watch my interview with Gerardo here:

Or listen to my interview with Gerardo on your favorite streaming platform here:

Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Webcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this podcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.

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Transcript:

Daniel Newman: Welcome everybody, to the Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series, special edition. Excited today to talk about a new announcement that’s going to be affecting the rollout of 5G, changing the way we communicate with the world, and have a guest coming on from Qualcomm, not going to spoil his surprise. He’ll be with us in just a minute.

Before we get started on this show, first of all, thanks everybody for tuning in. Stick with us, hit that subscribe button and join us. We are here every week talking to the world’s largest tech companies and the leaders of these companies and of course, focusing in on all of the things digital, transformation, infrastructure, networking, communication devices, and so much more.

Quick disclosure for everybody out there, I always have to do this. This show is for information and entertainment purposes only. So, while we will be talking to publicly traded companies and about publicly traded companies, please do not take anything I say on the show or our guests as investment advice. Big week, big news. Without further ado, let me bring Gerardo Giaretta from Qualcomm to join me here on the show. Gerardo, welcome. How you doing?

Gerardo Giaretta: Hi, good, good. How are you? Thanks for having me.

Daniel Newman: Hey, Gerardo Giaretta. So, I’ll give everybody the title, Senior Director, Product Management, Qualcomm Technologies. Great stuff, but tell everybody what that means.

Gerardo Giaretta: So, I’ve been in Qualcomm for 15 years now. So, pretty veteran there. I’m leading the overall infrastructure business and product management team, so everything that has to do with silicon and software solution in Qualcomm, that has to do with small cell and microcell and private network as well. I’m driving the business and the product definition for those.

Daniel Newman: Well, excellent. 15 years sounds like a long time, but I imagine when you’re working for a company that’s inventing and innovating at scale and at pace, I’m sure you’ve had a lot of fun. That puts you in, what? You came in around 3G or 4G wave, and now you’re 5G. Of course, I’m seeing some media news and stories kicking around about big investments. I think Qualcomm actually was named as one of the companies that’s being touted as America’s leader to get us to 6G, but let’s not get there yet. We’re still working on 5G.

Gerardo, you had some big news this week. I read it. I think it’s very interesting, but I don’t want to spoil it since I have you here. This new partnership’s all about accelerating 5G. Tell me, tell everybody about the news.

Gerardo Giaretta: Yeah. Thanks, thanks. So, yeah, we had this joint announcement with Vodafone. It is really has to do with accelerating 5G and the Open RAN way to develop 5G. So, we have announced that we are going to develop together a reference design for the massive MIMO radio unit solution and distributed unit solution based on the principle of Open RAN. So, this is based on an announcement, a product announcement, that we have done six months ago, where we have announced our new silicone ASIC solution for micro base station. Yeah, it’s pretty significant. After six months, we have a leader in the industry like Vodafone joining forces with us. The goal is really to create a blueprint for Open RAN ecosystem in order to deploy network, to enable new entrants, enable maybe smaller player to enter into the market and creating bigger diversity in the 5G infrastructure space.

Daniel Newman: Hold that thought on all the benefits because there’s a lot of questions I have about that. I want to take a step back. So we have a very technical audience, but we also have a lot of business leaders, CEOs, executives, tech media, and not all of them understand some of the things you said. You talked about Open RAN. You talked about massive MIMO. Give us a quick overview on Open RAN, massive MIMO and really why our service providers and network infrastructure manufacturer so focused on that.

Gerardo Giaretta: Sure. So start with the easy one, so massive MIMO, massive mamma, just a technique that together with multi-user MIMO in general is used to increase the capacity of basically how many users and data a single site can process. The concept is to have a lot of antenna streams and dedicated some of these antenna streams for different users. So that at the same time, a single antenna can serve different users at the same time. That can be done without Open RAN forever, so that’s a separate aspect.

The Open RAN aspect is really about creating a more open ecosystem into the radio access network. So if you want originally, and up until now, I would say the radio access network tends to be pretty vertical with the same player providing the full solution and what now service provider operators around the world are looking at, can I break that apart a little bit and creating some diversification, so that may be some part of their radio access network can be provided by one vendor. Then there is an open interface, an Open RAN interface, an open protocol, so that that can easily incorporate with another part of the network. That allows the service provider to have more diversification, probably lower cost and high rate of new features coming to the network.

Daniel Newman: So these are all things that Qualcomm, their company is very busy working on. A lot of people out there don’t always recognize, they think of Qualcomm for the chips that go in smartphones, but the company’s doing so many things. In fact, your earnings just came out yesterday. I think they company broke a billion dollars in IoT revenue. The RF front-end businesses is nearing a billion dollars and basically attacking that 5G and RF front-end capability is uniquely something that Qualcomm is now positioned to solve, which is going to create a whole bunch of scale. This is another example from an infrastructure standpoint, where you’re really feeding the ecosystem. That’s something that Qualcomm does really well, feeds the ecosystem and invents and creates, and then enables, whether that’s enabling device makers with what you’re doing with PCs, you’re enabling companies to now use your technology to build PCs. Now you’re enabling service providers to deploy infrastructure at scale, it’s pretty cool.

Gerardo Giaretta: Yeah, actually, that’s a very good point, that as a technology enabler is really in our DNA. So even in this particular case, I think it’s important to understand while we are starting this with Vodafone, as a joint partnership with Vodafone in defining this blueprint, we are going to work with many more partners because we ourselves, we’re not going to build, we’re not an infrastructure supplier ourself, we’re not going to build the final product ourselves. So these partnership eventually will include the additional players in the future because we don’t provide all the components and other players are needed. So it’s really an ecosystem play, but it’s good to have some leaders like Qualcomm in particular, Vodafone, to drive a little bit, the beginning of this journey.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, so I’d like to let you dive into that a little further. So we went away from it and I want to come back to it and you just started alluding to it right now. But if I’m hearing you correctly, this partnership isn’t only important because of Qualcomm and Vodafone, but it’s really important because this blueprint and this blueprint as an enabler, because 5G, while then you’re seeing this deployed into new markets every quarter significantly and the scale is … I would say acceleration is the right word, but this has to help, right? Because essentially 5G, this infrastructure is really what makes it valuable, right? Because 5G itself, if you don’t have this infrastructure in place, it’s not going to deliver faster performance and better experiences for user. It really comes down to these components that you are working and this blueprint is a big part of it.

Gerardo Giaretta: Correct. So as you said, in order to make the maximum out of 5G and the 5G technology, we need to deploy networks, increase capacity, deploy new features and so forth. What we are looking at with Vodafone is really creating a blueprint based initially a little bit on the Vodafone requirement, but then expanding to other operator requirements so that we can really showcase with some reference design and prototype how network can be deployed at the next level. Again, based on the Open RAN principles, so that even startup or new players can play a role in that particular ecosystem. So it’s really, as I said earlier, a technology enablement and ecosystem enablement that we are going to do, it’s not going to be Vodafone and Qualcomm only, eventually is going to be more partners also because we as Qualcomm, we are a key technology provider, but we don’t provide all the components that are needing the radio access network. There are components, both software and hardware, that we don’t personally develop. So we will need partner to work with and to develop those components together and then to put everything together for our final product somehow. Yeah, the goal is really to make sure that we keep innovating. We keep innovating with 5G. We keep deploying faster and more features into 5G for the benefit of the consumer eventually.

Daniel Newman: So if I can ask, how much … So the blueprint is what I’m hearing here is the takeaway for listeners. It’s kind of like whether you’re a software developer using GitHub to get pieces of code that can then be developed at scale to develop other pieces of software instead of inventing the wheel. That’s what you’re doing, the blueprint here, you’re saying the same thing. We’re going to give a foundation. So whether you’re a carrier that supports or a service provider with a few hundred thousand clients in a small market, or if you’re serving millions in a really dense market, we’re going to give a foundation here and we’re going to build it from Vodafone with Vodafone, but it could be anyone. It could be T-Mobile, it could be Orange, it could be Verizon. You know what I’m saying, over time? There’s parts and pieces in this initial rollout, that there’ll be able to take and then build, like you said, to tailor it for their network, how much faster does this enable the rollout of these in certain markets? Do you think there’s a marketable expirable amount of time? Is it condensing it by 10%, 20%, 30%? I know you’re not exact, but I’m just curious, how exactly does this help [inaudible] providers move?

Gerardo Giaretta: I think it’s difficult to put a number to it, but I think there is a point that somehow, infrastructure business and market as being pretty limited, the number of players that in the past have been playing. We have seen now with vRAN and O-RAN more and more players coming in, and we just think that somehow this blueprint will lower the barriers for those players to really be successful. So the nautral real acceleration of deployment will come with the introduction of new vendors and new players. When there are new players, new vendors and automatically increase the level of competition and increase the overall value for the consumer.

Daniel Newman: That’s a great point. So part of the value here is we’re bringing more players. It would be kind of like if you could only buy an iPhone or just a Samsung, and those were the only choices you had, that would impact pricing and availability and supply. Historically speaking with infrastructure for comms, there’s been a limited number of providers, household names. Now you’re seeing that COSP and CSP starting to merge as new companies can start to raise their hand and say, “We can build this,” or, “We can participate in this and start to add value.” You’re starting to see the big cloud players, for instance, starting to be much more closely aligned to these stories. And this type of technology is exactly the type that they will build off of.

So let’s wrap up here, it looks like over the next, it’s about a year. So this isn’t a long horizon thing because Qualcomm is a company that does things sometimes with a decade of horizon. You’re building this now, in the next year this is going to start to take place in the market. What kind of evolution will you see this taking place? Is the biggest evolution what you alluded to that other service providers are going to follow suit here? Should we expect Qualcomm to be scaling and naming more partners, what’s going to happen next?

Gerardo Giaretta: Yeah, so I mean this is based, as I said, on the product that we have announced six months ago. So we have announced that that customer or something, or that particular product, will be in the first half of next year. So as we mentioned this week with Vodafone, we are looking at trials by somehow the end of ’22. That’s where we can see basically trials coming alone based on this blueprint, or based on this product. We expect to from now until then to have more partners and more players interest in this space. We expect then eventually the solution to be mainstream sometime in ’23 and then move from there.

Daniel Newman: Excellent. Well, if it’s anything like how the company has handled partnerships with the OEMs’ licensing agreements at this point of, what did I see here yesterday, over 130 license agreements now with in 5G, meaning basically every major device maker or provider that needs licensing access is now working with Qualcomm, definitely at the center of the ecosystem for 5G, helping to scale up the infrastructure, working closely with the service providers is just one more way to become imperative in this market. So Gerardo, I just want to thank you for taking a little time here and chatting with me about this new development and congratulations.

Gerardo Giaretta: Thank you very much, it was great. Thanks a lot.

Daniel Newman: All right, Gerardo. Thanks everybody for joining us today. It was great to have Gerardo here to talk a little bit about what just happened with Qualcomm and Vodafone. These kinds of advancements are exciting. You’ll see them slowly start to roll out as he said over the next year, but really what we love here is seeing the democratization of these technologies, we’re starting to bring more and more players into the space. This means more infrastructure, more software, more contributors in this ecosystem. More contributors means more innovation, more competition, which generally speaking means good experiences for consumers.

For this episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast, Futurum Tech TV, I’m Daniel Newman. Want to thank you for tuning in. Hit that subscribe button, like I always say. Join us for more shows, more executives, more topics, things that interest you in the tech space. But I got to go for now, we’ll see you later. Bye-bye.

 

Daniel Newman