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The Six Five On The Road with Qualcomm’s Ignacio Contreras at Snapdragon Summit 2022
by Daniel Newman | November 16, 2022

The Six Five On The Road at Snapdragon Summit 2022. Hosts Patrick Moorhead and Daniel Newman sit down with Ignacio Contreras, Sr. Director of Marketing at Qualcomm, for one of many conversations here at the #SnapdragonSummit. Their discussion covered the following:

  • Announcement of Snapdragon Generation 2
  • How the Gen 2 stacks up against rivals
  • X70 5G Modem-RF system (1st w/ AI processor)
  • WiFi 7 & Bluetooth connectivity

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Transcript:

Patrick Moorhead: Hi, this is Pat Moorhead, and we’re here with the Six Five on the road in Maui at Qualcomm Snapdragon Summit. It’s always a great time to be here. Great place to be. I mean, literally, we’re doing this in Maui. Can you believe this?

Daniel Newman: I never complain about it. We do a bunch of these because … on the road. We’re talking to-

Patrick Moorhead: I know.

Daniel Newman: We’ll be talking to Ignacio here soon.

Patrick Moorhead: I know.

Daniel Newman: We talked to Cristiano Amon. We talked to Don McGuire, talked to a bunch of great thoughtful executives here, and the only problem is, is that you’ve got this picture of the beach, but a hundred feet that way-

Patrick Moorhead: Is the beach.

Daniel Newman: … is the beach.

Patrick Moorhead: Yes.

Daniel Newman: But you know what? If we have these great conversations, it gives us some time to reflect on all the cool technology and the announcements from Qualcomm, and then we can meander down that way.

Patrick Moorhead: That’s exactly right. I mean, we are talking graphics. We’ve been talking processors. We’ve been talking AI, camera technology, but quite frankly, when it comes to Qualcomm, connectivity is at the center of all of this, and it’s my distinct pleasure to invite Ignacio into the shore. How are you doing, my friend?

Ignacio Contreras: Excellent, Pat. Thanks, Dan, for having me here.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah.

Ignacio Contreras: Happy to have you here as well back in Maui for the Snapdragon Summit.

Patrick Moorhead: By the way, just if you were wondering, I do prefer Hawaii over New York. This is the fifth Snapdragon Summit.

Ignacio Contreras: Yes, yes.

Patrick Moorhead: First one was in New York, and then it was Maui, Kauai. Was it Kauai?

Ignacio Contreras: No, no.

Daniel Newman: Two Mauis and a-

Patrick Moorhead: Two Mauis and a Kauai.

Ignacio Contreras: It was in Maui, but we have last year, one in the Big Island.

Patrick Moorhead: Okay, the Big Island. That’s right.

Ignacio Contreras: Yes, but you are a veteran on this one. You attended the very first one in New York.

Patrick Moorhead: Yes.

Ignacio Contreras: So, you have seen this kind of growing and more people in the community joining us for each of these great announcements and yeah.

Patrick Moorhead: It’s explosive.

Daniel Newman: Well, the whole ecosystem’s expanding. I mean, Snapdragon’s become a really big thing. I mean, maybe next year, if we get automotive here, you can just see just how comprehensive it’s become, but you got PC, you got mobile, you got gaming, you got connectivity, you got AI. It’s getting to really exciting, and obviously, your world is connectivity and all things. So, maybe we start off there and just, what’s the big updates on the connectivity front here that you were able to announce?

Ignacio Contreras: Well, there updates in terms of connectivity across all key technologies, 5G, WiFi, and Bluetooth. This is very important because the way I like to say it is that connectivity is like the air, right, of our connected experiences of mobile experiences. You don’t forget about this. It’s invisible. It’s around you as soon as it started, but when it’s lacking, you start like … Your phone is starting like that, heart rating, and then you have an alert alarm. Okay, something going wrong there, but that’s why it’s so important at the end even if that’s invisible, sometimes unnoticeable, that we put a lot of effort, investment and time, engineering into what it goes in terms of connectivity [inaudible 00:03:00].

Daniel Newman: I can barely function without connectivity. I was at lunch the other day, and all of a sudden, my phone would not connect. I swear to God, I was with my whole family, and I didn’t talk the rest of the time. I spent the entire time trying to turn off Bluetooth, turn on wireless, turn off wireless just to get connected again.

Patrick Moorhead: Oh, was that the-

Daniel Newman: So, you were saying you can’t breathe. It is legitimately like …

Ignacio Contreras: Yeah. Your phone’s just trying just to connect like … Yes.

Patrick Moorhead: By the way, you may not have been alive in 1980, but I was.

Daniel Newman: I wasn’t.

Patrick Moorhead: It was boring. Nothing connected. The only way things connected was over UHF and VHF and maybe cable. Cable was coming in though.

Daniel Newman: I’m super glad you picked ’80 though ’cause-

Patrick Moorhead: No.

Daniel Newman: … I wasn’t alive.

Patrick Moorhead: No? Okay, there we go. There we go.

Daniel Newman: Almost though. We were close.

Ignacio Contreras: Yeah.

Patrick Moorhead: So, Qualcomm is one of the few companies that actually does research. I know the industry, we love to say R&D, R&D, but you do not only the foundational research, sometimes 10 years before something has been productized and you also productize these great parts and whether it’s a modem, whether it’s with Bluetooth, whether it’s … I mean, pretty much you’re connecting everything in every ways. We even saw what you were doing with satellites or what some of your customers are doing with satellites. It’s pretty incredible, but I have to ask. I mean you’ve had such a first-to-market mentality, but I have to ask anyways, how do you stack up against your nearest competitors and not the stuff maybe they’ve talked about but the stuff that actually isn’t going to be in market?

Ignacio Contreras: I can comfortably say that it’s not just because I work at Qualcomm, but Snapdragon is at the leading edge, and I can give you the facts on that. For instance, on 5G, we’re rising the bar yet again, what is the benchmark for 5G connectivity. Now, in the new Snapdragon, we just announced the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, we are now mixing for good 5G and AI. So, we use AI now rather than putting more silicon or more components into the problems, we’re now using AI to more intelligently manage a connection and get a number of benefits.

For instance, we’re using AI to manage a millimeter-wave beamforming. What happens is that when your phone, when you’re moving with millimeter-wave in this hotel … There’s plenty of millimeter-wave. This is probably the hotel with the best 5G connection worldwide, but as you move with your millimeter-wave device, you’re always like under multiple beam candidates. There’s one beam connected to the base station, but there are always a handful of candidates that are present, could be through reflections or direct line of sight, to maintain the connection with the base station with the cell tower as you move along.

With the new Snapdragon, we’re now using AI to predict what will be the next beam that will work best to maintain your connection. In that way, we’re able to improve by about 25% the reliability of the millimeter-wave connection. We’re also using AI to classify, right? AI is very good machine learning, very good in classification to classify the base stations around you. So, if there’s one that is showing poorly in terms of the quality of connectivity, we disregard that and connect to another one that’s known to be good.

We’re using AI on location as well within the same modem-RF system to understand if the signal that you’re receiving from the GNSS satellite for location, GPS, BeiDou and others, you have direct line of sight or what you’re getting is a reflection. As we’re able to classify those signals, oh, we know this one is a direct line of sight to the satellite, and we can therefore improve location capabilities. So, you can see and you will see overall in announcement, we’re using AI prevalently, right, throughout the architecture and the Snapdragon functions with the new Snapdragon, and connectivity is not a part. We’re using AI significantly and just one example on how we are applying those 10 or more years of R&D just with AI and put down into commercialization and getting tangible benefits for user experiences.

Daniel Newman: So, to sort of double down on Pat’s question, this is what you believe is a standout differentiator right now versus your competition is the application and the way you’re utilizing AI?

Ignacio Contreras: It’s just one.

Daniel Newman: Well, okay, so in fairness, let me give you a second here because Pat asked you, and he said, what are the things that you really truly believe are standing apart?I’m going to make you talk a little more about the AI. We’re not done yet with that, but before we go on, do you have a few other things that come to mind that have really been your standout differentiators that are sort of creating the bigger gap between Qualcomm?

Ignacio Contreras: Yes, absolutely. In terms of speeds, for instance, we are now in our second generation of 10 gigabit 5G solutions while others are not there yet, right?

Daniel Newman: Right.

Ignacio Contreras: That speaks on the ability to manage signals to aggregate spectrum to be able to again keep Snapdragon users or the users of phones and devices, the users of Snapdragon at the leading edge in terms of connectivity. We also have the most comprehensive carrier aggregation capabilities like four carriers on the downlink on sub-6, app link aggregation, switch app link, millimeter-wave, and sub-6 aggregation as well. That’s how you get the fastest speeds overall but also how you get good signal if you’re in the stadium, if you’re in a crowded environment.

Daniel Newman: Right.

Ignacio Contreras: That’s why you are the one who’s able to upload that social media post while the guy next to you cannot because you’re able to use the spectrum in a better way.

Daniel Newman: I’ve been at the Camp Nou, and I’m telling you I can never get anything up. I don’t know if you’ve been there before, but at MWC, I’m on the games at Barcelona soccer games, and you’re exactly right. I can never on a other device made by a fruit company, get those uploads working.

Patrick Moorhead: I know.

Daniel Newman: Fruit. They are … Can we say Apple? Oh, no.

Ignacio Contreras: Sorry. I don’t know. I only use phones when it’s Snapdragon so I can’t talk. I don’t know others.

Daniel Newman: As we know, we carry many devices as analysts. That’s our job. We have certain ones that our kids sometimes prefer to text us on.

Patrick Moorhead: That’s right.

Daniel Newman: That’s the story. I don’t know, maybe at next summit, we’ll have that fixed eventually too. We’re going to have the messaging all lined up. That’s not your thing though, so we won’t hit you-

Ignacio Contreras: We’re always pushing the boundaries.

Daniel Newman: I know you are. I know you are.

Ignacio Contreras: We’re planning to use [inaudible 00:09:17] but-

Daniel Newman: It’s not over. This game has not been decided, but on the AI front, just circling back to that question, you mentioned that on the X70, all these great AI-driven features. How hard was that to do? That’s been one of the big winners, I think, for you guys. It’s been doing the hard stuff like the RG, 5G RF modem system. I mean, that’s why you’ve led in that mobile or front end business because you did the hard stuff. This sounds like this is some of the hard stuff, and it’s really creating differentiation.

Ignacio Contreras: Yeah. I think it’s leading edge, right? It’s something that nobody tried. There are not books to show you how you can use AI to enhance wireless overall.

Daniel Newman: Right.

Ignacio Contreras: We know very well how to use AI now to improve and manage images, right, voice recognition, but for wireless connectivity, it’s something absolutely new, and we’re just peeling the onion on what features we’re going to enable enhance with AI, but this is not going to stop. It’s going to go forever as we go into 5G, 5G advance, 6G and so forth.

Patrick Moorhead: He said 6G.

Daniel Newman: Oh, did I miss that?

Patrick Moorhead: He just said 6G.

Daniel Newman: Did you, really?

Ignacio Contreras: Of course, we’re going to be … Again, we’re part of the research and future of wireless and, yes, at some point, we will be there as well.

Patrick Moorhead: But hey, the here and now, the X70, you also talked about it having the first standalone 5G millimeter-wave. Can you talk about what that means from a user, maybe a carrier perspective?

Ignacio Contreras: Yes. I’ll first address your question, Dan, in terms of how hard it was to do AI because for instance, on the basement, right, on the 5G basement itself, the network that we’re running are fairly lean, right? They’re fairly multilayer networks overall, but it’s latency, the issue. Again, when you’re dealing with a 5G speeds, a millisecond, it’s a long time.

Patrick Moorhead: Right.

Ignacio Contreras: So, the latency needs to be very, very small, and you need to be able to process those inferences very, very quickly. That’s why we have our AI processor integrated, right, into the models in the basement itself. So, it’s not about managing big models, but you need to be able to do inferencing very, very quickly to be useful as well.

The other, of course, we were able to use many of the simulations, right, and techniques that we have developed many, many years in studies and use that to fit and train the networks offline and pour them into the model, so you can, again, see improvements like 20% improvements in speeds on sub-6 spectrum.

Patrick Moorhead: Seems like it’d be beneficial to share this information between devices or maybe with carriers. Is this something that this capability can do once it learns which base stations might not be working the best?

Ignacio Contreras: That might be part of the future?

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah.

Ignacio Contreras: Right now, we’re putting a lot of our knowledge and the experience that we have in collecting data, in managing simulations, right, into the training, but yes, what I said before, this trend of using machine learning is through machine learning, not marketing AI into 5G connectivity and wireless connectivity or just at the start of that. [inaudible 00:12:25]

Patrick Moorhead: Well, it’s very similar too … With Ziad, we talked about the benefits of doing AI on the edge for different use cases, and you’ve really talked about how you’re using it on the RF side, very similar to where people had tried to do what I think you’re doing at the base station between that, but it wasn’t quick enough to do the switching. So, this is great stuff. So, can I get to my standalone question here?

Ignacio Contreras: Yes, you get that. I heard.

Patrick Moorhead: I want to know about it. What does it do?

Ignacio Contreras: Well, 5G, the concept of millimeter-wave standalone that we introduce with the Snapdragon X70 modem-RF system, the same one that we’re putting on the new Snapdragon, is the idea that you can sustain a 5G connection using only a nothing but millimeter-wave spectrum.

Patrick Moorhead: Okay.

Ignacio Contreras: As of today, to have a millimeter-wave connection, you still need to have an anchor. The primary connection is still on sub-6 regular.

Patrick Moorhead: Technically, the reason why you might have a slower uplink speed when you’re doing maybe a speed test. Is that right?

Ignacio Contreras: It’s more that you’re depending. You can still use millimeter-wave for the uplink.

Patrick Moorhead: Right.

Ignacio Contreras: So, you can still have very fast uplink overall, but you’re still depending on that sub-6 spectrum, right? There are many carriers, for instance, in many regions that may might not have sub-6 spectrum or might not have the sufficient sub-6 spectrum to be able to serve many devices.

Patrick Moorhead: Right.

Ignacio Contreras: That’s where millimeter-wave standalone is important because you can do use millimeter-wave only connections for fixed wireless access for instance. So, if a carrier that does not get access to a lot of sub-6 spectrum, let’s say a wire-line carrier that’s just entering into the wireless space, but you can access to a significant amount of millimeter-wave spectrum, you can use that to provide fiber-like speeds to homes and alternative to cable and alternative to fiber, and be able to provide connectivity and help close the detail divide. We’re seeing a lot of interest on that, and we’re working, for instance, with Fastweb in Italy. That’s a classic example.

Patrick Moorhead: Right.

Ignacio Contreras: It’s a wireline operator that now is seeing the potential, right, of using millimeter-wave spectrum to provide internet services to home, small businesses. They’re very interested, and we’re working with them on using that millimeter-wave standalone capabilities.

Patrick Moorhead: This would be in like a FWA type of implementation.

Ignacio Contreras: Yes. In fact, what’s funny that as we see more fixed wireless access, that line that divided the wireline operators versus the wireless start becoming more blurry, right? You see now a lot of operators like Verizon in the United States, Fastweb in Italy and others using 5G, particularly 5G millimeter-wave to provide access to, fixed access to many customers. Now, also you see the traditional landline operators-

Patrick Moorhead: Sure.

Ignacio Contreras: … start seeing the potential of using 5G to connect people. In India, you will see in India probably one of the best examples of that transformation and the use of millimeter-wave along with sub-6 or not to provide.

Daniel Newman: What are they doing differently? I mean, if India is going to be the best or could be the best, what are they doing differently? Is it that they don’t have the sub-6?

Ignacio Contreras: They have.

Daniel Newman: Or not.

Ignacio Contreras: They just had the actions for a spectrum across sub-6 and millimeter-wave spectrum just a few weeks ago. Even you can say, “Oh, they started late,” right, because they auctioned the spectrum more than three years after the first 5G networks were launched, but what you will see in India is now that the whole ecosystem for 5G is built, they plan to move very aggressively to take advantage of that.

Reliance Jio, one of the main operators there, they already stated that they want to use 5G to help connect 100 million households in India and think about that’s one-third of the all households that are in it overall, and a lot of that using these 5G millimeter-wave with, without sub-6 spectrum or not, that will be a tremendous transformation from the country.

Daniel Newman: Sure.

Ignacio Contreras: So, the way I think about this is that if 2G was transformational, let’s say, for Europe, 3G was particularly relevant for regions like United States, Korea, 4G for China was very important even if they were a bit late in terms of the internet massification in that country, I think we’d see, with India, tremendous use case, an example of how transformative really can be 5G technology.

Daniel Newman: So, let’s come full circle and sort of get back to a technology that’s near and dear to many of our hearts. It gets us often connected on airplanes. It’s often what we’re using in our hotel rooms.

Patrick Moorhead: Sometimes.

Daniel Newman: Not very well, but you’re working hard to make WiFi better, something that I think everybody would appreciate, and whether it’s WiFi 7 or the future, what are the big WiFi announcements? What’s on your mind there here at Snapdragon Summit?

Ignacio Contreras: Yeah, two words. WiFi 7.

Daniel Newman: I just said WiFi 7.

Patrick Moorhead: You called it, huh? How about that? You called it.

Daniel Newman: I felt the need to make sure everyone knew I was right first.

Patrick Moorhead: All right. There we go.

Daniel Newman: Okay.

Patrick Moorhead: I know.

Ignacio Contreras: No, but it’s very important. If we were talking before, connectivity is like air, right, that fuels your mobile phones, your mobile experiences, that’s also important not just outdoors, not when we’re using 5G but also in the place where you live the most, at your home, at your workplace overall. WiFi 7 will be like the air purifier that you can bring into those places, and you’ll have a new experience with WiFi 7.

What’s important there is that it brings more spectrum, and we know spectrum is critical at the end for the quality of mobile experiences, and now, we’re dabbling with WiFi 7 the amount of spectrum that we can manage using five or six gigahertz of spectrum overall to have more responsiveness, more throughput. One thing that’s unique on how Qualcomm is bringing WiFi 7 to many users worldwide is the use of what we call high-band simultaneous multi-link.

If you think about carrier aggregation in 4G and 5G and the benefits that carrier aggregation brought, we’re applying the same concept now to WiFi. We’re able with high-band simultaneous or HBS multi-link now able to aggregate two channels in WiFi across five or six gigahertz of spectrum and then aggregate the throughput and high-band wider pipe for all your data. That’s something that’s only available as of today with some Snapdragon. That’s very important for countries that don’t have access yet to 6 gigahertz spectrum for WiFi like China for instance. This is the only way that you will see meaningful improvements in speeds versus WiFi 6 generation.

So, if you want to have solution that’s able to provide faster and better WiFi connectivity worldwide, it’s not just about WiFi 7, it’s WiFi 7 with this high-band simultaneous multi-link capabilities, again, carrier aggregation on 5G to take things to the next edge.

Daniel Newman: Say that five times faster.

Patrick Moorhead: No, exactly. What’s really cool is yet again, another example of how Qualcomm is improving WiFi using some of the methods that it learned in cellular, I mean a few years … It was so funny when your market share was low in WiFi, you came in and had a kind of a multi-node, three-node network inside of the house, right, that miraculously, those little nodes were like little towers. You would move through the house, and it would move, and it would determine which one to talk to, and it would do that. You were the first one there by, gosh, two and a half, three years lead on that and looks like once again, you’re putting the pedal to the metal and using these technologies that used in a segment over in WiFi. Just when you thought WiFi couldn’t get better, it keeps getting-

Ignacio Contreras: Yes. That’s what it usually do.

Daniel Newman: I was thinking. It couldn’t get worse on my flight yesterday but-

Patrick Moorhead: Well, it’s that last mile. I mean it’s this end-to-end. I mean, we need something between the plane and the ground here, right?

Daniel Newman: We do. Well, a little bit more.

Ignacio Contreras: Pat, going back to some of your original comments in terms of Qualcomm participating strong on R&D. One of the questions I receive a lot is, okay, how can you have a WiFi 7 product. WiFi specifications are not expected to be out there finalized until the end of 2023.

Daniel Newman: Right.

Ignacio Contreras: How you can offer a WiFi 7? Well, when you are the one doing R&D and helping write those specifications, you know what will be there.

Daniel Newman: Right.

Patrick Moorhead: You know the wiggle room of the spec, which could change, well just like you did … I mean, you had millimeter-wave before the millimeter-wave spectrum was finished.

Ignacio Contreras: We announced our first 5G product solution at 2016, three years before 5G was there. Of course, there’s something that you keep improving and refining. There’s a lot of software also that also it has the flexibility adjust as the specifications are finalized, but when you are into that process, you know what’s coming. You are able to be a little bit ahead of the curve.

Daniel Newman: This industry is sort of the personification of continuous improvement. I mean, it is all about making it better and then making it better and making it better. Ideally, it’s somewhat a ubiquitous way for all of us. It’s getting better. It’s getting better, something like, God, this app, this connect … it works so well, and you didn’t even realize, and you kind of forget a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, the problems you had with certain apps and certain tools that just work and just work. That’s the stuff you guys are building.

Patrick Moorhead: Well, and the industry used to be in a stove pipe, right? It had 3G, Bluetooth, WiFi, and almost nobody was working together, but in the end, they figured out the RF. Now, what’s kind of cool is all those things under one house, including satellite, the ability to play and move off because a consumer, they generally don’t care about the technology. They care about the experience and the ability to seamlessly move and have devices work together, inter-operate with each other, get the content you want down, get the content you want to share up and to all your friends, and for it to work and be reliable and not cost an arm and a leg. That’s what they want.

Daniel Newman: So, all that RF, does that mean Qualcomm is the leader in analog transformation?

Ignacio Contreras: Going back in circles.

Patrick Moorhead: That ending-

Daniel Newman: I was waiting to say that. That’s been on the tip of my tongue. It’s so good.

Ignacio Contreras: It’s all yes. In connectivity and wireless connectivity, you have half digital, but at the end, things turn analog, and you need to be very good at that as well.

Daniel Newman: You’ve got a book about it.

Patrick Moorhead: No, I’m going to write the analog transformation.

Daniel Newman: Oh my gosh. Oh, my gosh.

Patrick Moorhead: You wrote the digital transformation book so-

Daniel Newman: Ignacio Contreras, thank you so much for joining us here at Six Five-

Ignacio Contreras: Oh, a pleasure to be here.

Daniel Newman: … on the road here at Snapdragon Summit. It’s great to have you. It’s always great to chat with you. Everyone out there, thanks so much for tuning in. Hit that Subscribe button. Watch all nine of these shows here from Snapdragon Summit here in Maui. Pat and I are suffering out at the beach. We hope you don’t mind suffering here with us. In all serious, great time, great show, Ignacio. Good stuff. We’ll see you all later.

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