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Examining How COVID-19 is Accelerating 5G Technology with Qualcomm’s Cristiano Amon – The Six Five Insiders Edition
by Daniel Newman | May 13, 2020

On this special episode of The Six Five – Insiders Edition hosts Daniel Newman and Patrick Moorhead welcome Cristiano Amon, President of Qualcomm to discuss the impact COVID-19 has had on the tech industry and technologies like 5G.

Qualcomm’s Resilient Culture in the Spotlight During COVID-19

Qualcomm has always prided itself on its resilient culture and while this pandemic is definitely unprecedented, it’s not the first time Qualcomm has been put to the test in recent years. Currently 90 percent of Qualcomm’s workforce is working from home with 10 percent of employees still working on campus. Cristiano shared that the company is still hitting benchmarks and is seeing 90 percent productivity level. A lot of processes got put to the test, but employees rose to the challenge and are making it work.

Cristiano also shared that managers and leaders have seen a shift in how they operate. They have more responsibility now to over-communicate and maintain engagement with employees. Teams across the organization are having more video meetings and the company is seeing more messages via collaboration tech to keep morale up among employees.

Embracing the Opportunity

Times like this give companies the opportunity to show who they really are and many in the tech space are going above and beyond to do just that. For example, carriers all over the globe proved to be invaluable as other businesses are depending on them to remain connected and keep people employed.

Qualcomm has had a long history of philanthropic endeavors so it’s no surprise that the company has donated money and resources to a variety of organizations locally and nationally. For instance, when the pandemic forced schools to shift to remote learning, Qualcomm donated laptops to underserved students in the San Diego community.

Cristiano shared how Qualcomm shifted their own supply chain to help other companies secure parts needed to make ventilators. They also started using 3D printers to make molds for masks that many hospitals and medical providers around the country are desperate for. These are just a few examples from an extensive list that reaffirm Qualcomm’s mission to embrace the opportunity to use technology to make our communities and world better.

Wireless and 5G Technologies Contributing in the Future

We are seeing a few shifts right now at home and across a variety of industries when it comes to wireless and 5G technology. People are realizing the power that these technologies can deliver. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Enterprise Transformation at Home. People are upgrading their WiFi networks, buying new devices, and improving their home connections to be able to handle the increased bandwidth to maintain productivity during this work from home experiment.
  2. Mindset Shift for the CIO. Prior to COVID-19. CIOs mostly viewed 5G and other wireless technologies through the lens of “how will this fit into my system.” Now there’s a shift to “how to adapt our system to serve my workforce,” which has included upgrades to the cloud, collaboration platforms, and turning to ACPCs.
  3. Use Cases in Remote Learning and Telehealth. Medical providers and schools the world over have been forced to accelerate their technology transformation. Digital transformation has been on the back burner for many years in these industries, but now it is the number one priority.

COVID-19 is Accelerating 5G Build Out

The technology that has seen the most growth during the COVID-19 is clearly 5G. This unfortunate situation has put pressure and spotlight on telecom companies to keep companies and individuals connected.

The focus for a 5G rollout until now had been in urban areas, but with most people at home in suburban areas carriers are making upgrades to support network capacity that hadn’t seen this demand before.

In general, carriers are able to build more now that there are fewer people out in the streets. Construction is happening faster than before with a resolve to make connectivity stronger. More base stations are being built, quotas and goals are being met before deadlines. In China, carriers built 150 thousand base stations in the first quarter alone and will easily meet the goal of one million base stations by the end of the year.

On the consumer side, while the roll out has been slow, 30 percent of phone activations in China were 5G devices in March — a huge leap forward.

And while not every country or region is seeing success, the economies that had previously embraced 5G are doing well now.

If you’d like to learn more about Qualcomm, the advancement of 5G, and other technologies please visit their website. Be sure to listen to the full episode below to hear more insights from Cristiano, Daniel, and Patrick. While you’re at it, don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss an episode.

Transcript:

Daniel Newman: Welcome to the Six Five Podcast Insider’s Edition. I’ll be your host today, Daniel Newman, Principal Analyst at Futurum Research joined by my always steady, always fun to partner up with podcast cohost, Patrick Moorhead, of Moor Insights and Strategy. Patrick.

Patrick Moorhead: I know. This is exciting. I love Insider Editions. They’re my favorite, and especially when I’m locked in my office here. I haven’t been on the road for, I don’t know, six weeks, seven weeks. I don’t even remember. I don’t even know what month it is or day it is, Daniel. I want to get on an airplane quickly.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. I can’t even begin to tell you all the funny memes I’ve seen about it’s just a day now. It doesn’t really matter. Weekends no longer matter. You and I used to always start this show rallying about where we are, where we’re going, comparing notes, who’d been to better places and let’s just say-

Patrick Moorhead: Flexing a little bit.

Daniel Newman: There’s no place like home, Pat. So here we are. We’re at our house. We’re doing these podcasts, and we have a really exciting one today, actually, one that you and I have been excited about for a while. We did our Six Five Podcast blitz, and one of them got pushed out a little bit and it was Qualcomm. One of the companies we really enjoy talking about, a leader in 5G, a leader in a number of different connectivity technologies, but let me not jump in and spoil his wares. We have Cristiano Amon, president of Qualcomm joining, us today. Cristiano. Welcome to the Six Five Podcast.

Cristiano Amon: Thank you very much. My pleasure to be here to talk to you, Dan, to talk to you, Pat. This is definitely an interesting time, but I would say, like everything in the history of Qualcomm, is an exciting time for Qualcomm as well.

Daniel Newman: It looks like you’re in your home office, by the way. I can’t imagine you traveled any less than we did. How are you liking your house? Do you like it as much as you thought when you bought it?

Cristiano Amon: I do like it. I don’t know. I don’t know if everybody else in my house may not be used to seeing me around that frequently are enjoying as much as I am. But there are some positive things about spending a lot of time with the family, especially for me to have been traveling 50% of my time. But having said that, I do miss seeing people, being on the road, talking to other people live. We’ve been doing a lot of things via collaboration tools, but yeah, can’t wait to get back on the road again.

Daniel Newman: So real quick for everyone out there, Pat and I obviously know you, and we really enjoy all of our conversations. But you’ve got a big role there at Qualcomm, but we’d love for you to share just a little bit before we get into our Q & A with you about what you’re doing and what your day in/day out looks like at Qualcomm.

Cristiano Amon: I don’t do anything. I’m just overhead. Just overhead in the organization. But on a serious note, no, I’ve been at Qualcomm for a long time. It’s been since the beginning of 2018 that I became president of the company. I run all the technology and the product business of Qualcomm. You should think about Qualcomm. It’s a company that develops a lot of technology, develops a lot of products. It has a licensing business. It has the product business. I’m on the technology and product side.

I have in my organization, a number of business units, of course the largest one, and I think what’s Qualcomm is mostly recognized for is the mobile business. I think we have been since the beginning of our company, really focused on the mobile ecosystem, but as over the years as mobile and satellite starts to go to other industries, we started to expand and create a new business unit, such as in the automotive business, internet of things, computing and et cetera. I think has been an expansion story that came from mobile and is going where mobile is going, and the company is growing that way.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah, Cristiano, it really has been fascinating watching the ascension of Qualcomm over the last 20 years, the last 10 years. It’s been crazy. You’ve really been at the epicenter of some of the biggest growth drivers of all of the industries. But hey, let’s dive into these questions here that we have for you. We all talked a little bit about how we were doing and how we were dealing through COVID-19, spouses, kids, dogs, everything. I’m curious, how are things going at the company during this time?

Cristiano Amon: I will have a long answer because this is something we’re extremely proud of.  There are so many examples we had over the few years about how strong, how resilient, how great is the culture of our company and our employees. I don’t have to tell you that in the past, in the middle of some of the most biggest crisis we had, dispute with Apple. They’re hostile for Broadcom.

What our organization have done in the middle of all of this was accelerate 5G by one year and build many other businesses to diversify the company. I think the response to the company has been very similar with this pandemic. Let me just go straight to the answer. We have more than 90% of the company working from home, and productivity is above 90%. It’s incredible. We have benefited from investments over the many years and be able to work with a global R & D team.

So when you look up our labs, even our research labs, and our test equipment, our benches, we have cameras, we have a lot of the lab equipment connected to the cloud. We did eat a lot of our own dog food on IOT. What’s happening right now with about eight to ten percent of people in the premises will be able to stay productive. We have ability to measure.

In the type of industry we are, chips, they’re being developed. They have KPIs, they have milestones. You have to sample, check functionality, go to the software development. You have different releases, engage with customers. Like I said, we’re above 90% productivity. A lot of those things got put to the test. Like everybody, we had hiccups to work on, but the reality is this has been working much better than we expected.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I would have no doubt that given the experience and the fact that Qualcomm is one of the companies that helped connects the world, that you would hope that you’re executing quite well on your own. It sounds like that was a natural fit, but we’ve been on campus many times, both Pat, you and I, for many events. We can say Qualcomm was definitely a company where people liked to come to work. People liked to engage, whether that was in the quad, beautiful San Diego, walking outside. I see engineers and execs talking, just walking, and then you go into the building.

So it had to have been a really big change for these folks. Of course, you have offices all over the world. But just to go from a place that’s very vibrant, very collaborative, very human to suddenly doing this with minimum on prem capacity, that was quite a transition in a very short period of time.

Cristiano Amon: Absolutely. It is a big change. I went back to the building for an earnings call and it was, I know exactly what you’re saying. Just seeing our lobby, how it’s always vibrant with people in and out. It was a different scenery, but the organization of figuring out a way to continue to engage and collaborate. It did put a lot of responsibility, I think, within the various groups and the management team to over communicate, to maintain engagement.

We’ve been having weekly videos. I’ve been having across the organization a couple of times a week, we’ll have a Teams meeting with random groups. We are doing everything possible to maintain the teams engaged, but we are celebrating the fact that the company culture has proven to be very resilient. We were early to get everybody out to protect the people that are going to be in.

I think before the mandate in California, we started to label our employees in the ones that needed to be on site, the ones that could work remotely. We get as fast as possible, a situation that the people that will be on site will feel safe. But it’s working well. What is interesting to see is the stats are great in terms of chat messages, about people doing productivity on mobile phones.

We’ve been saying about mobility first for years. We have now the main kind, largest telecommuting experience. We needed to put the swing to the test. We’re very happy it worked for Qualcomm.

Daniel Newman: Best case study ever, Cristiano. Best case study. You could never plan to have this kind of opportunity to test mobility. Hopefully not again, by the way, but hopefully you get a lot of the data you need out of this, so you can market it correctly. So I want to keep moving forward on this.

The tech industry has been, I’ve been very impressed. Pat, you and I have done a lot of shows on this. We’ve talked about the solidarity of the industry because tech sometimes takes heat. It takes heat for whether it’s how it uses data, how it grows too fast. Its stocks are always performing better than ever, but the tech industry as a whole can take heat over a lot of things. But in this pandemic, it’s been pretty incredible to watch the industry come together. I know there’s been some really great stories from the partners within your business. Carriers, handset makers. You’re seeing it, but I’m sure a few of those that stood out to you.

Cristiano Amon: Yeah. Look, there’s many. I was just going to say that it’s really in opportunities like this that you see the companies have the ability to show who they really are. Right? I think I admire the companies that rose to the challenge to understand the role that they play in the society with the technologies and the products and the opportunities that they have to make this better. I think there’s a number that stood out. I think the work from the carriers is the one that is really number one for me, because a lot of companies, their ability to remain in business, their ability to keep people employed and protect livelihoods, in addition to protecting lives, it was about being able to stay connected.

I think a lot of the carriers rose to the challenge. It has been great, but there’s many more, I will say. For example, I’ll tell you some of the things we’ve been under the radar, but we’ve been able to do a couple things that made us very proud. I think San Diego Unified District and some other locations as well, needed to connect schools, and kids needed to have laptops with connectivity, that didn’t have home broadband, didn’t have laptops. So we’ll be able to donate some laptops to underserved communities in San Diego and other locations.

We use a foundation to help. A lot of the communities where our employees live across the United States, other countries as well, one other thing we have been sensitive and we’re still working on it, is small business. Not only with monetary donations, but also how to help. We’ve been thinking about a phase two, how to help some of the small business be mobile and be able to engage with their customers to connectivity.

The other thing is the companies that can, we continue to hire. I’ll tell you, in the month of March in the middle of the lockdown, we onboarded 500 employees. So I think from us, is we continue to move forward. We believe into the story of the company and we use this opportunity to also hire talent. So that’s what we did in our last quarter.

Patrick Moorhead: That’s some great stuff, to see Qualcomm contributing to help out the pandemic here. Cristiano, if we can move to the mobile ecosystem. They’ve really seemed to rally here. Are there any specific cases from carriers or handset makers that really stand out? I think we saw Sprint and T-Mobile, they donated half a million medical masks to the CDC that just blew my mind. Things that really went above and beyond having the reliability and the dial tone, even though they’re under excess usage right now.

Cristiano Amon: We have saying a lot of efforts, especially to support beyond the industry, if I understand the question. I’ll give an example. We use our supply chain, which it’s a very complex supply chain, across many different types of companies and technologies across the board to procure parts for ventilators to help some companies that are building ventilators. We use a supply chain to be able to help that. We use our 3D printing ability to print molds for masks. I see many companies doing that. I think that just the call to action is really remarkable.

Look, I mentioned about how are we doing. As difficult the situation is, everybody working from home, the company is doing great. I think that the best thing is you see a lot of people in good spirits trying to make the best of their situation, help the way they can. Hopefully that we go through this as fast as we can.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. It’s been a really interesting, because you’re obviously only able to share a few of the things that you’ve participated in and we’ve seen a pretty extensive list of things. The community … Qualcomm’s ecosystem is huge. You’ve got OEMs making contributions, you have device makers. I see whether it’s equipment, whether that’s helping manage the pandemic, whether that’s adding connectivity, it’s been really impressive across the board at AT&T, Apple, Facebook, LG, Google, all companies you guys work with every day. It has to be pretty moving for you just to see.

Of course, Qualcomm’s technology is inside of many of these contributions, whether it’s through the networks, the phones, devices themselves, but just as a whole, the solidarity of the industry. I mean, I don’t know about you, Cristiano, but I’ve been pretty blown away. I’m inspired and actually really proud of being part of the tech industry.

When I saw the way that this entire industry, despite all the competitive jabs we take at one another from time to time, has come together and said, “We will maximize technology, and we will help bring this world back and make it a better place when this is over.”

Cristiano Amon: Look, I completely agree. Look, we feel the same way. I keep bringing back … By the way, I’m stealing that from a tweet that Pat Moorhead posted from something he saw from HP. This is definitely an opportunity for companies to show who they really are. I think companies that don’t take advantage of opportunity, it’s kind of a pity because I do believe technology is a force for good, and especially a company like Qualcomm.

We dedicated the life of our company to connect everyone and to make sure that we can create technologies that make the world smaller. You can’t think of a situation better than what we live in right now to rely on a connectivity, to make sure we don’t say far apart, that we’re still connected and engaged and functioning and doing what we need to do.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah. I can’t even imagine what it would be like without this wireless technology. In fact, we had a lot of people, even in our business who were fighting for bandwidth with their kids playing some game, and they switched over to LTE to get a consistent signal. But Cristiano, we are going to get through this. There is light at the end of the tunnel. We don’t know what that light looks like yet. We don’t know how far the tunnel is, but we will get through this. Any thoughts on how you see wireless and 5G contributing in the future? There’s different stages here, wrestling with the pandemic, economic recovery and-

Cristiano Amon: All right. So I have lots of thoughts. Maybe I’ll go into a timeline. There’s some stuff we’re seeing right now, which is great. Look, you know me. I always am an optimist. I always like to take the glass as half full. So as difficult as it is, the current situation, there are a couple of things that are happening, which are kind of interesting and it could turn to be very good.

So, one thing that we’re seeing right now is what is called the enterprise transformation of the home. We’re seeing not only people buying PCs and printers, but they look at how do they upgrade their WIFI network? How do they actually have the ability to connect everything? So we see the consumer side an acceleration of, at the enterprise transformation of the home. People want to be connected. People want to be productive in that telecommuting experiment. We’re doing it right now.

But there are other things, for example, and I’ll walk you to some interesting things with 5G. But the other scenarios that we’re seeing, there’s a mindset change in the CIOs, already happened. Before the pandemic, when we will have a conversations with the CIO, the CIO will look of all of those new mobile technology, how is connected PCs, cloud-based storage, cloud-based applications, 5G transition to the enterprise. They look at those things and they always say, “How will this fit in my system? How will this meet the requirements of my IT enterprise?”

Now, with the current situation we have post-pandemic, the conversation changed. Mobility first, cloud collaboration first. How do we adapt my environment to those new technologies that I need to empower my workforce? So we are seeing that transformation right now. The whole … We don’t have to explain to anybody anymore about the importance of having an always-connected PC and the fact that the importance of all the workloads in the cloud, so you can access them from wherever you are and collaborate with wherever you want to.

Now, there are many other things that are also interesting to share. There are some use cases that have been talked about it in remote learning and telemedicine. They’re just being accelerated. You know, what’s fascinating, whatever was be the rosy projections, and I’m just going to be provocative on this on purpose. But whatever will be the projections, what would we be doing in 10 years with technology? We’re just accelerating like today.

The thing about e-learning or remote learning is better be ready today because we need it right now. The thing about telemedicine is the same thing. So we’ve seen a major shortcut to some of those technology transitions. I’ll give you an example of that. We have … It’s actually worth sharing. We have developed if when Korea launch 5G, one of our partners in our ecosystems in Korea, together with KT, Korea Telecom, they launch a wearable 360 camera connected to 5G.

If you look at some of the early commercials of the launch of Korea Telecom 5G, they have people flying over Seoul. This camera right now is being used in many locations in the ICU room with the first responders wearing this color with 360, providing 360 video in real time through a 5G uplink to a whole suite of doctors in different locations that can monitor and exchange information for first responders in real time.

We’ve seen now this been, people are interested to take this to some of the labs or production facilities when they have to remove some of the employees from locations, and they need people to have real time access to what is happening and be able to collaborate so they can remain productive. So we’ve seen a number of those promises of technology, especially 5G, happening right now.

I talk about on the consumer side, the enterprise transformation of the home, but going back to the enterprise and the commercial side, in the IOT, many companies had this plan of digital transformation. But for some companies, especially the known tech companies, this was kind of in the back burner. What we’ve seen right now is this has become the number one priority. I have to connect my machines. I have to connect my machines to the cloud.

Otherwise, it cannot stay functioning. What if this happened again? So all of this stuff is happening in parallel and there’s, I will say, it’s a major acceleration of the role of technology.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, it’s super encouraging to hear all of it. I mean, look, Pat and I have kids at home. You’ve got your family. I’ve watched remote education and try to go to work. I have a senior in high school. Trust me, she’s devastated. But we’re seeing the acceleration of remote learning at a pace that you’d never could have expected before. We’re seeing the way technology, as you suggested, Cristiano, for healthcare could be accelerated.

I don’t know why we’ve been going to the doctor for some of the things we’ve been going for as long as we have. This tech has worked all along. I’ve said this about remote meetings from the very beginning of this. I said, “Man, we’re going to find out if that meeting could have been an email a lot, because we just like to have meetings.”

So there’s a human component to it, but we can accelerate learning. We can accelerate healthcare. To your point where you started, we can accelerate small business. I want to take you to our last topic. This is a really big topic.

That’s 5G. This is something that was just starting to explode when this happened. It was looking like it was going to be a humongous year. Now we’ve got all this uncertainty.

So I have some speculation on it and Pat does, too, but we’re not the guests on this show. You are. I want to hear what you think about the buildout of 5G. What’s going to happen now? What should our community of tech leaders, investors, they’ll all want to hear. You’d be a great guy to share just a little bit. Nothing from behind the scenes, but just your outspoken thoughts. Is it an indicator of the future? Are we going to get hit recovery? I think if it keeps accelerating, 5G is going to be huge. Anyway, so I’ll stop talking and turn the mic back to you.

Cristiano Amon: All right. Well, that’s a great question. Before I answer, this conversation we just had, just think about it. How much better we’ll be able to deal with the current situation if we actually had a mature pervasive 5G network on the global, deployed across the globe. So nothing changed the need for 5G. If anything, I have the tendency of trying to look for the silver lining in things. I think this is an unfortunate situation. It brought the attention back to Telecom, and it may create a new gold era, for lack of a better expression, for Telecom and the carriers because of the importance and the essential aspect of connectivity, just being brought to the forefront.

In 5G, it’s just part of the story. So I’ll tell you now, some facts of what’s happening right now. You have a few outliers, but in general, in the middle of the pandemic, 5G is accelerating. The roll out is accelerating. The reason is there’s not a lot of people in the streets. So for the carriers to dig the trenches, lay fiber and build base stations, you could not find a better time. So many carriers that we deal with, they actually, they are ahead on their build, what they needed to build out. In this calendar, Q1 and Q2, they’re already ahead. They already completed what they needed to do for the first half of the 2020.

We see a resolve of connectivity being stronger. I would say locations like the United States, Korea, Japan, and China, we have seen an acceleration. I will tell you also where we have seen a slowdown in some areas, and I’ll break that down. Korea announced this month in the middle of the pandemic, the millimeter wave will be available in Korea Telecom before the end of 2020, which I think we’ve been expecting an announcement from the Koreans on a date.

Japan launched 5G, including millimeter wave. The US carriers, T-Mobile just achieved an essay milestone for the new 5G core. They continue to build. AT&T continue to build. Verizon continue to build. What we’ve seen is probably an even stronger resolve.

The other dynamics is some areas of the network need capacity upgrades. I think people just realize with this great experiment telecommuting, you may have capacity in the wrong spots. We have a lot of capacity for the commercial locations in urban areas. People went to the suburban areas. Nobody’s investing in 4G equipment. So it’s accelerating the transition.

Then it leads me to talk about China. China, they built within the quarter, close to 150,000 new base stations. They expect another. They will hit their milestone of 1 million base stations across the three carriers by the end of the year. What we saw, we even say it in our earning call, while the market may be smaller on the phones, not the 5G units.

So we saw China, for example, 30% of the activations were 5G in the month of March. So I think we expect 5G to continue. That’s why we kind of reiterated the total number we had for the calendar year. But we are going to see some delays. For example, the European situation’s a little bit more complicated. You have some vendor uncertainty giving the situation that is happening on the infrastructure vendor side. Then you had some countries that were late to do auctions. Now with the current situation, difficult for them to resume the auction. That’s the case of France, that they push out to the right.

So you’re going to see some delay immersion markets also going to delay. But the economies that started to accelerate 5G is all pedal to the metal right now.

Patrick Moorhead: I got to tell you, Cristiano, I’m as excited as I’ve ever been for this. A few things that have really come up for me that you mentioned, I, for one, am hoping we can get support for 5G in rural areas in the United States and also a support for a secure 5G as well. So, Cristiano, unfortunately, we’re coming up on time here. I could literally sit here for an hour or longer and do this. I wish we were doing this in San Diego. Maybe we could go out and get a bite to eat, get a drink together. But unfortunately, we’ll save that for the next time.

But I want to thank you, Cristiano and Qualcomm, for everything you and the company do. You brought some incredible perspectives on the current situation, really enlightened us on what Qualcomm is doing in the mobile industry to get us there, and I think you’ve given us a lot to think about.

Disclaimer: The Six Five Insiders Podcast 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.

Daniel Newman