Qualcomm has kicked off its annual 5G Summit to announce new 5G RAN chip offerings in support of its vision for the future of 5G. Those can readily be summarized as its new Qualcomm Radio Unit, Distributed Unit, and Distributed Radio Unit system-on-chip platforms. And each of those platforms is aimed at enabling and powering a new, interoperable, and modular cellular infrastructure.
In effect, Qualcomm is expanding its 5G portfolio to virtualize networks further.
As the industry currently stands, more than 40 countries and 90 Mobile operators have 5G commercially available, the company says. That includes nine operators in two countries in the North America region. Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T all have a nationwide 5G network in the US, for example. And so does Google Fi, because it utilizes those companies' networks.
With that move into the mainstream, Qualcomm says, companies are exploring both Sub-6 and mmWave networks. as well as a combination of the two. But networks aren’t as efficient as they could be either and aren’t being deployed as cost-effectively or quickly as they could be. Especially where the two network technologies are combined. That's where the company's new solutions enter the equation.
The Qualcomm vision for the future of 5G networks
Qualcomm hasn't provided any specifications for its newest run of solutions as of this writing. But it does point to the platforms above as being an answer to a question all carriers are asking.
Namely, that's how to deploy 5G networks when that network needs a new kind of infrastructure for longevity and supporting all of the potential use cases. Whether that's smartphones, enterprise, industrial, or other connected technologies.
Virtualization has, so far, provided a relatively clear answer. So Qualcomm has chosen that as its direction with its newest platform. Following the natural progression of networking infrastructure evolution, and moving more hardware away from the endpoints for a more virtualized network. The decentralization starts by moving to a virtualized central unit, core, and more.
Where Qualcomm's Radio Unit, Distributed Unit, and Distributed Radio Unit platforms play a role, is by providing a radio unit that stands at the cell site and a distributed unit at the front haul. The Distributed Radio Unit effectively fills both roles. The move will, the company says, also help to desegregate networking and creating more open-standards- and open-interface-driven networks.
The previous entries in the company's portfolio effectively served smaller cell sites. The newest solutions, collectively referred to as Qualcomm 5G RAN Platforms, intend to offer support for every global mobile networking band, via flexible, O-RAN compatible chip-based packages, with hardware acceleration. And with support for any type of 5G infrastructure deployment in a scaleable factor for any size network.
When will this technology become in place on the carrier side
The transition to this level of virtualization, dubbed Infrastructure 2.0, is not going to be a quick process. As noted by Qualcomm, virtualization of this portion of the network, especially in terms of integrated support for both types of 5G, is a truly new take on infrastructure. Qualcomm's customer sampling won't begin until the beginning of 2022.
The company tentatively aims to see its fully integrated vRAN chips arriving on networks toward the end of that year. Or, at the latest, early 2023 based on the typical timeline for these types of launches. However, that will depend almost entirely on the vendors that will use its chips to build the networking equipment. And on the carriers.