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Qualcomm’s RFFE Capabilities: A Critical Piece in the 5G Puzzle – Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series
by Daniel Newman | August 27, 2021

On this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast – Interview Series I am joined by Valerio Filauro, VP, Product Management, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

Our conversation focused on:

  • RFFE, what is it and why is it so important for 5G’s successful roll out?
  • Why RFFE business is a big opportunity for Qualcomm
  • What enabled Qualcomm’s competitive positioning among RF leaders?
  • Targets for the RFFE Market share by 2024
  • Qualcomm’s 10 year business vision

For more information you can read Senior Analyst Olivier Blanchard’s article Meet RFFE – A Critical Piece In The 5G Puzzle

You can grab the video of the interview here (and subscribe to our YouTube channel if you’ve not yet done so)

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Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Webcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this webcast, 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.

Transcript:

Daniel Newman: Hey everybody. Welcome to another Futurum tech webcast in future of tech TV. I am your host, Daniel Newman, principal analyst and founding partner at Futurum research. Excited about this Futurum tech webcast interview series, where I have Valerio Filauro joining me from Qualcomm. And we’re going to be talking a little bit about RFFE, and I’m going to let him actually play the expert, maybe weighing in providing a little bit of my context and analysis, but hold your questions, cause I know there are a lot of people out there wondering more about what is going on with 5G RFFE and the mobile space overall. We’ve got a great guest joining us. Quick disclaimers, we appreciate Qualcomm joining us as a partner in this particular webcast. And just so you know, this show is for information and entertainment purposes only. And while we will be talking about and to publicly traded companies, please do not take anything on this show as investment advice. So without further ado, I’m going to bring Valerio Filauro. Valerio, how are you doing today?

Valerio Filauro: Yeah Daniel, thanks for having me here.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, super excited to have you join me on the show. As I sort of cheated up a lot going on, we’re seeing explosive growth in mobility and connectivity and so much more. Our pandemic fueled world only brought us closer to our technology, spending more time on all of our devices. And we certainly saw 5G proliferate quickly during this last 18 or so months that we’ve been hopefully doing our part in helping end and put this pandemic behind us. So, let’s start off with the easy stuff and quick introduction, tell everyone out there a little bit about yourself, your role at Qualcomm and maybe an interesting thing that you do every day to start off your Workday.

Valerio Filauro: All right, let me give it a shot. I’m Valerio Filauro, I’m Vice President of Product Management here in Qualcomm looking after our RFFE product line. So again, RFFE is a primer, a radio-frequency front-end so it’s a very complex set of components that are in everybody’s smartphones. And we’ll talk about 5G complexity, there’s a lot of them in 5G phone. What I do how to start day? I open my computer to work, like most of us now we don’t get to go to work much, but the, it’s like you said, it’s exciting times. I think the new technologies, and you’re absolutely right, we’ll see these 5G momentum growing and with that, all the challenges and complexity that we’re trying to address. And that’s probably what I do after a workout during the time, try to address those challenges.

Daniel Newman: Oh yeah, you got a ton of them and the company’s growing really fast. The RFFE business is growing really fast. I’m hit you up on that in a minute, but you don’t, you don’t drink coffee.

Valerio Filauro: I do drink espresso. You might’ve guessed.

Daniel Newman: Wow there you go, awesome. Which in most parts of the world is what is coffee…

Valerio Filauro: That’s right.

Daniel Newman: Europe or other parts of the world, Australia, South America, coffee is a, it’s a small amount of very, very rich, dense flavorful. In America we drink this sludge, it’s huge cups of this brown water that has some expression of coffee within it. In fairness though, I like both. I do both. I start off every day and I don’t think it’s that interesting, but I definitely enjoy having a few good hot cups of coffee and listening to the business news and figuring out what happened while I was asleep for anywhere for three or four hours.

Valerio Filauro: They both keep you going. That’s what matters. It’s all caffeine, it’s all good.

Daniel Newman: It sure does. So, you sort of set this up already, but as a quick primer, you kind of told everybody what RFFE is and how, what the acronym stands for.

Valerio Filauro: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: But it’s a really big deal. And when companies are trying to deploy 5G at scale, when they’re trying to make these devices work well, when we’re trying to realize the promise of millimeter wave, it doesn’t, 5G doesn’t work without that RFFE technology. Talk a little bit about why it became such an important thing to 5G successful rollout.

Valerio Filauro: Yeah. I mean the 5G or 4G, no phones would really work without RFFE, right. Obviously it’s like tires for a car. The, in general, let me start, maybe besides the acronym, what constitutes RFFE is this bunch of components, you might’ve heard like a power amplifier, low noise amplifiers, filters, switches, antenna tuners, envelope trackers. So this is really all the function of this very complex of components tied together is really, is essentially what allows you to send, transmit and receive signal over here. Now the, with 5G, that level of complexity has grown almost exponentially, right.

The, we always tend to what some of the statistic that in the early days of LTE, we were looking for a global phone having a handful of bands less than 20. If you look in now all the combination for a truly global phones with 5G sub skate giggers familiar with a wave, I hear numbers like in the 10 thousands, right? So it’s a, and that translates in level of complexity, combinational bands that need to work together, make sure that they don’t interfere with each other. So that complexity, of course, it’s also an opportunity for somebody like Qualcomm, both from a business perspective and from a technology perspective to innovate and offer differentiation to our customers and eventually to the users. So what, and that’s exactly what made us get into this market, right. We understood the importance of RF front-end to a new technology like 5G.

And we’ve been investing quite a bit to kind of like simplify the complexity, absorb the complexity, so that to make it easier for OEM to launch 5G devices in the market and of course, making it a profitable business for us in the process, yeah.

Daniel Newman: Oh, so humble. Listen, I want to press you a little bit on this though, because Qualcomm did not have to get into this space. There were other companies that were doing this. You could have, Qualcomm values partners, use many partners in many parts of your business, but there was a decision made and it was clearly seen that this was an opportunity and now, as this is becoming I believe a billion plus run rate business now…

Valerio Filauro: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: Why did you go down that path? What did all come see this opportunity? Was it because they, you know the, how important 5G is, was there something else that kind of tied this thread together?

Valerio Filauro: Well, at the high level, right? I mean, this was a clear opportunity to, for Qualcomm to evolve from the leader in smartphone chip suppliers and modem suppliers to really become the, as briefly mentioned, the leader in providing the full system solution, right. You hear words from us, and I can explain a little bit what we mean by that, like more than 2 1 tender, so I really, not just the components, but we sell technology. We want to provide the full solutions. And as part of the full solution, of course started from 10 is a big component, right, in terms of bill of material and in terms of the complexity, as I mentioned, and the technology that we can offer and the differences we offer.
So then what was, that’s what was trigger the decisions to get the, some of the investments that we did and that keeps driving our roadmap, right. You’ll hear more and more from us, some of the new technology that when using the market differentiation, but it’s really the full system level approach that we saw as an opportunity and in a situation necessity. Now you’re right, there are people out there that were doing RFFE and they were doing pretty well, but everybody was always looking at it at a component level, right, trying to address the box of RFFE. I think the challenge, the opportunity and where we come and our unique position as Qualcomm to address is the full system level. And that’s where we are differentiating ourselves.

Daniel Newman: Absolutely. And that’s what we kind of talk about the RF plus 5G system. And that’s been one of the unique differentiators. That’s been one of the components that I think us as analysts have looked very closely at as different companies are launching their flagship devices. Which company’s 5G RF system are they using because there is, it is not all created equal. We’ve seen that over the years with iPhone, when there were different chip makers that were providing components that numerous benchmarking tests found that it was not all created equal, just because they were on the same standards.

So it matters. And so you sort of began alluding to the competitive landscape, and I’m not asking for you to beat up on any other company that’s playing in this space, but the company has clearly shown in mobile RF, a leadership position very quickly. What do you think enabled that to happen though? Like what enabled the company to so quickly become this leading player in mobile RF? And of course, I’ll kind of tie this with my next question, cause it actually just makes sense, and have a realistic shot at 20% plus of the entire RFFE market by 2024, which is a goal I’ve heard Cristiano and I’ve heard other executives at Qualcomm talk about it.

Valerio Filauro: Yeah. So let me start from the beginning of the question. So what, it’s very challenging right now to go buy a 5G phone and don’t find Coco Murphy components in it, right? So another way of looking at it, our strategy has proven successful. The, we are virtually in every 5G phone. When I say we, our RFFE components are virtually in every 5G phone be commercialized. And besides that, you’ll see a trend, right, by looking at public information center down that more and more phones in the market are virtually completely using 5G RFFE components from Qualcomm.

Why? It’s, first of all, because of the, that system level approach that we as Qualcomm have taken. And that’s about it, we offer to OEMs, right. So kind of like hide the complexity, right, for OEMs, both from a technical perspective, but also from simplifying their go-to-market in the sense that by having a look at the entire platform, we do a lot or we’d resolve a lot of complexity also from a system level implementation, that the customer doesn’t need to go and address by themselves. They don’t need to go and take parts from different vendors, put them together, resolve the challenges, we do it for them. So that’s certainly something that has a great value, both from attempt to market perspective, and also from an R and D investment from an OEM view. Now, again, we have released public information that I think will certainly make you unavailable, the show, that trend that I’m talking about in terms of phones and 5G and 4G out a fee attached to those phones. This is all public information that will keep going. And that’s really what the value that our OEMs are seeing too, RFFE parts from Qualcomm.

And that’s what, again, differentiates us from the other guys. And in the process of course, we keep showing better maturity. Performance is one key item especially if you look at the high tier phones, it’s not just about making it easier for customer, but at the end of the day, you got to worry about user experience. So performance is key and again, performance doesn’t necessarily mean how fast you are, but also how efficient you are in doing that. What sounds like a very simple function in sending and transmitting signal over the air in terms of maximizing battery life and make sure that your phone doesn’t feel hot when you are using it. And those are all the challenges that we’re helping OEM solving. And I think the results are showing that we’re being successful in that.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, absolutely. And we’ll flash up here and also put a link in the comments to a graphic that you sort of referred to here that just shows across the Snapdragon portfolio in modem RF systems selected by big OEMs. You got Samsungs, Googles, Motorolo, Vivo, Xiaomi, and Apple, all for instance, selecting Qualcomm’s modem RF systems and a number of their flagship devices. And this actually will show a graphic, not just the overall selection, but then the parts and pieces, whether that’s transceiver, millimeter wave modules, filters, tuners, et cetera. So take a look at that. Definitely we’re seeing definitely a number of wins, and this is really just a small selection of all the companies that are partnering, which is really why this technology, in my opinion has taken off so well. All the big OEMs are picking and they’re choosing, and when they choose, it’s a pretty good indicator of their confidence of what is going to provide that best market experience.

So only got a couple of minutes left, and I’d love to have our guests Valerio, not only tell me about how they start their day, which by the way I sometimes ask and sometimes don’t, we know we both like coffee, but I also like to have them give me a glimpse into the future and tell me, where do they see their business going? Where do they see this business going? And I will keep you in the guard rails of what you wake up and do every day, which is this business, where do you see over the next few years, give me a three, five or 10, I’ll let you pick of how this business is going to evolve.

Valerio Filauro: That’s a very good question. So, let’s start from where we are now, right. So we’re on track, I think you’ve heard it from our CEO, we’re on track to be a number one vendor in terms of revenue for RFFE. So what happens next? We’re going to continue to grow. I mean, one way of looking at it is that really 5G has practically just started, right, so the penetration of 5G into a lower tier or even addition market it’s happening. And that’s one thing that we contribute to, for the growth of our RFFE business. The, I mean, of course we will keep investing and that is a roadmap, we’re doing it and the system level aspects we don’t think is what really sets us apart. But also by looking at these addition market, there are opportunities for RFFE into more tailored architecture for these addition markets, I’m talking about wearables, I’m talking about IT, right.

So right now, what you’re seeing, we’re really just scratching the surface of what we can achieve. And bottom line, what do we see in five years? It’s a technology leaders in both from again, system level but also from technology in terms of acoustics, envelope, trackers, and all the stuff that you hear from us. And there will be new texts coming up eventually, right, we’re already working, again, discuss details, you can call it 6G of, and that’s also the opportunity to grow. So the future is bright, we’re very excited where we are today, but that’s the beginning, right.

Daniel Newman: Well I guess what do they say? The future is bright and we have to wear shades, is that how the song goes, I don’t know. No copyrights edit that out if you have to, but Valerio, it’s great to hear from you. I think we’re going to see all this technology also really spurn the growth of categories like AI, categories like VR, XR, AR, I know you use different types, everybody uses different terminology, but we are going to see this great level of connectivity, throughput bandwidth speed, enabling us to really do what we keep hearing we are going to be able to do each and every day. Certainly being aid and supported by the technology that you are helping be part of and build every single day. So Valerio Filauro, thank you so much for spending some time with me here on Futurum tech webcast, Futurum tech TV, I’m going to put you out in the green room, but thanks for joining and we will hopefully have you back soon.

Valerio Filauro: All right. Thank you. I look forward to that. Thank you then.

Daniel Newman: Thank you, sir. All right everybody, you heard it here, RFFE making the difference in how we will connect the devices. Manufacturers are investing in the technology they’re putting into them and the experience that you, all the users are having with those devices each and every day. For this episode, time to say goodbye. Hit that subscribe button if you like what you hear, we have lots of interviews with executives from many of the most interesting and innovative companies in the world. We’d love to have you as part of our community. For now got to go, but this is only goodbye for a moment. We’ll see you again real soon. Bye

About the Author

Daniel Newman is the Principal Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. Read Full Bio