Qualcomm moves into the RAN business

US mobile chip giant Qualcomm has launched a new portfolio of chips that take aim at the 5G radio access network market.

The launch came at a Qualcomm 5G Summit, alongside the customary flood of stockpiled announcements. Qualcomm describes it as ‘a full portfolio of 5G infrastructure semiconductor platforms designed for broad deployment scenarios, ranging from macro base stations with massive MIMO to micro base stations with compact designs, to accelerate the cellular ecosystem transition toward virtualized and interoperable RAN.’

Allowing for the continued domination of its marketing department by the corporate lawyers, the announcement seems to indicate a fairly ambitious push into a market not previously associated with Qualcomm. There are three platforms, as illustrated above: radio unit, distributed unit and distributed radio unit. The catalyst for this move would appear to be the US enthusiasm for vRAN, OpenRAN, etc, as a counterweight to the Chinese telecoms vendors.

“Our 5G expertise and global technology leadership uniquely positions Qualcomm Technologies to provide a comprehensive horizontal infrastructure platform to enable the deployment of innovative, high-performance, virtualized, and modular 5G networks at scale,” said Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm President. “We are working closely with mobile operators, network equipment vendors, standards bodies and other key stakeholders to make the deployments of these networks a reality.”

The Qualcomm marketing/legal team managed to get a bunch of operators to contribute equivalent generic corporate gibberish, which we’ll spare you the details of. The list is impressive though: AT&T, BTEE, DT, KDDI, KT, LG Uplus, NTT Docomo, Rakuten Mobile, Reliance Jio, SK Telecom, Softbank, Telefónica, TIM, Verizon and Vodafone.

It should be stressed that Qualcomm hasn’t suddenly decided to become a 5G vendor, in the traditional sense. Rather, it’s looking to compete with other semiconductor companies for that piece of the disaggregated RAN market. Given Qualcomm’s pedigree in devices, there’s every reason to assume it will produce highly competitive base station chips too.

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