Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., with its support to telecom operators, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and work with the government, is preparing for the rollout of 5G wireless service in India, said Rajen Vagadia, vice president and president, Qualcomm-India and Saarc. In an interview, Vagadia shared his views on the country’s wireless ecosystem, the next spectrum auction in March and Qualcomm’s partnership with Reliance Jio to develop a 5G solution. Edited excerpts:
India is expected to launch 5G wireless service soon. What are the key areas which Qualcomm is exploring/working on to meet the India-specific needs?
We have been in India for the last 27 years. We work with all stakeholders here—telecom operators, OEMs, the ecosystem and regulatory authorities. With 5G coming in, the biggest issue will be of power efficiency in portable devices. First, we are working towards making complex and intelligent devices more powerful and efficient. Second, our effort is to bring global technologies to India. For instance, Qualcomm introduced 4G or VoLTE (voice over long-term evolution) technology, a premium service globally, to India.
About 18 5G-enabled devices were launched in India in 2020, despite no commercial network here. Almost every alternate phone to be launched this year will be 5G. We are future-proofing India’s market for 5G. By the time trials start, the market will already have several 5G phones, which didn’t happen in the past for other generations of wireless service. Third, we are also working on making the devices affordable.
Where does India’s wireless technology and infrastructure stand?
To launch 4G, the 2,300MHz spectrum band was used, which is a high-frequency band. This implies that higher you go in frequency, its reach is narrower. We have demonstrated that millimeter wave is a fundamental frequency required for 5G, and we are working with the government to push for its auction along with the 3.5GHz band. That is our first step towards 5G, which will give consumers fibre-like speeds in a wireless network. We are also proposing a millimeter-wave backhaul for connectivity in rural areas, where homes can be connected over wireless system instead of fibre as fiberization remains a challenge in India. Qualcomm also helps OEMs to manage the complexity of multiple spectrum bands by providing stitched solutions, enabling them concentrate on building faster and cheaper devices, and focus on developing applications and seamless user interface (UI).
Help us understand the 5G solution being developed under the Reliance Jio-Qualcomm partnership. And how is it different from Bharti Airtel’s 5G technology?
Airtel demonstrated 5G under dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS), in which the existing 4G spectrum bands can be used, and 5G can be launched on top of it. DSS allows sharing of spectrum between 4G and 5G, but you need to have adequate amount of airwaves to give optimum experience to users. In 5G, the base stations have to be closer to consumers. In partnership with Jio, we will develop higher-power base stations. With Jio, we are not just building small cells, but creating the entire network with high-power solutions.
4G will stay along with 5G—so there are two ways of using it—either use them independently or some parts of 4G for 5G, which Airtel is doing. Eventually, everything will move to standalone technology. Initially, it will be NSA (non-standalone).
How important is the upcoming spectrum auction as operators prepare for a 5G rollout?
5G cannot be launched without spectrum. Airtel demonstrated 5G using the 1,800MHz spectrum band. The quantum of spectrum available in the 1,800MHz band will support 5G technology but not to its optimum level. If one buys spectrum early, they can roll out the technology before others, and get an early-mover advantage. It will be essential for operators to participate in the next auction in March.
Are you looking at the B2C segment as part of your global strategies?
We are not a device company. We do not go to consumers. We support our partners and the ecosystem. For Qualcomm, understanding a consumer is important, and we do it through our partners, via activities such as gaming, where we assess consumers’ needs. We will never go to the B2C (business to consumer) segment and do not have any such plan.