open RAN

Qualcomm targets macro cell towers with new chipsets

Qualcomm on Tuesday announced it would enter a new business area: selling chipsets for macro cell towers.

The move will position Qualcomm against other silicon vendors for macro cell towers, including Marvell, Broadcom, Intel and Xilinx. And analysts believe that Qualcom's move could help further accelerate the open RAN trend by creating more silicon options for open RAN equipment vendors.

"It's impressive that Qualcomm is now leaning into RAN [radio access network] infrastructure and it will result in increasing its 5G reach and sales opportunities beyond end devices [like smartphones]," said Will Townsend, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy.

"It is big news," agreed Heavy Reading Principal Analyst Gabriel Brown.

Brown explained that Qualcomm to date has mostly focused on selling its chipsets to smartphone vendors and small cell equipment suppliers. Now, with Qualcomm's new chips for macro RAN products, the company is expanding into a new business area.

"Collectively it's very good for open RAN," Brown added. He said the trend toward open RAN – which promises to allow operators to mix and match infrastructure components from a range of vendors rather than being locked into a full stack of equipment from just one supplier – has been hindered by a lack of silicon options. Now, with the addition of Qualcomm to the mix, the open RAN trend may gain further steam.

Earl Lum of EJL Wireless Research largely agreed. He noted that Qualcomm previously sold silicon into the infrastructure market during the early days of the global wireless industry, and has now returned to the sector amid the launch of 5G and the move toward open RAN technologies. But he noted the overall RAN infrastructure market remains decidedly complex, with silicon options stretching from the baseband to the radio.

Qualcomm said its new products will target the radio unit, the distributed unit and the distributed radio unit, and that they will focus on open and virtual networks. However, company officials noted the company's new chips can be used in both standard equipment as well as equipment that meets the new open RAN specifications from the O-RAN Alliance.

Further, in a release, Qualcomm touted support from a wide array of operators including Verizon, Vodafone and Rakuten. Qualcomm also announced that it is directly working with Reliance Jio in India, and its Radisys equipment vendor subsidiary, on 5G RAN platforms.

Qualcomm also hosted a virtual event Tuesday to discuss its new 5G business; the event featured representatives from infrastructure vendor Samsung, though Samsung did not formally announce that it would use Qualcomm's new products.

Finally, Emil Olbrich, an analyst at PrimeLime, argued that Qualcomm's efforts represent a longer term play because the company's new "5G RAN Platforms" are scheduled to be delivered in the first half of next year.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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