For more than 30 years, Qualcomm has been at the vanguard of technological innovation with its breakthrough chips, modems and platforms. Now, as 5G deployment picks up worldwide, Qualcomm finds itself amid another tech revolution — and company executives are bullish they can stay ahead of the pack.
The company launched its Smart Cities Accelerator Program earlier this year to connect the public sector with a variety of partners and providers in what is being dubbed the "Match.com for smart cities," said Sanjeet Pandit, Qualcomm's global head of smart cities, at the recent DC5G conference in Arlington, VA.
Smart Cities Dive caught up with Pandit on the sidelines of DC5G to learn more about Qualcomm's role in the smart cities space and to gather his predictions on how 5G will accelerate industry sectors in 2020 and beyond.
The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.
SMART CITIES DIVE: Qualcomm has a long history in technology. How has that helped you stay ahead of trends and keep up with new developments?
SANJEET PANDIT: The No. 1 thing is you cannot rest on your laurels. We invest a lot of money in research and development. What's important is being omnipresent in terms of the systems body, the standards, understanding deep down what the carriers need and most important is having the right research and development team to deploy and develop solutions which are conducive as a building block towards what's next.
Having a head start doesn't really help when the technology clock is reset. You're on the same starting line as somebody else. You have to show your power and your ability to innovate as fast as possible ... It's like cooking a different dish in the kitchen, even if you have finished one.
I was struck by what you said on the panel about needing to be first, otherwise you're left behind.
PANDIT: If you're second, you're the first among all the losers ... We don't want to be that, we want to be first. And if you're first, you don't have to come back and say you're better. If you're first, you're first. That's it.
How do you balance being first and being best? In some lines of work, it's tough to do that.
PANDIT: That is a challenge. We have mastered the art of being first and being the best, but it doesn't happen without a lot of sacrifices. There's a lot of hard work, blood and sweat that goes on behind all this. It takes three years to get a chip out. It's not easy for us to be there, but credit goes to the management, to the team and most important, I would say the engineering brains that Qualcomm has within the organization. The faster turnaround that the products and technologies require can be jived with where the engineering expertise lies in the company.
How do you go about building relationships with the mobile carriers and cities?
PANDIT: The Smart Cities Accelerator Program, I would say is the first and only program in the industry that brings everybody, who's who in the zoo, in the ecosystem, under one roof ... When I took over this practice and wanted to deploy a smart city, it was so fragmented, and we needed as an industry leader to be the glue to bring all the ecosystem things together ... This Smart Cities Accelerator Program is a Match.com of smart cities. There is nowhere else. I wouldn't use this analogy in normal cases, but there's no better way to explain it.
We've seen slow rollout of mobile 5G from some telecoms. [Is this pace what you expected] in terms of 5G rollout, or is some of the hype getting ahead of the substance?
PANDIT: Rollout of 5G has been faster than 4G. This is the key ... We have more than 30 operators around the world who have announced this, we have the European Union (EU) operators, we have U.S., China, we have the Middle East and Africa operators. As far as the adoption of 5G, the pace at which it is growing is faster than 4G. The transition of 3G to 4G, the time taken, versus the transition from 4G to 5G, is much faster ... Are the people at the right pace? I'd say they're a little bit ahead of the game. So the hype matches the deployment.
Is the U.S. behind Asia on smart city deployments?
PANDIT: It all depends. There is a lot of infrastructure in the U.S. that is pretty robust that has been deployed years before the bicycles of China went away. It'll be unfair to say the U.S. is way behind. I would say the adoption rate of the newer technology in Asia is at a faster pace compared to the U.S. All of a sudden, if you want to see cashless transactions everywhere, it's not in the U.S. But you go to China or some other places, you could just take your phone linked to your bank account and do all that stuff. Are we getting there? Yes, we are.
There have been rumblings already about 6G. When does that really start to gather steam? Has it started already?
PANDIT: I would say there have been discussions. We're just at the nascent stage of 5G getting there. Some countries have just deployed 4G and they're already saying, 'What? We've got to deploy 5G now?' If you draw a Venn diagram of 4G and 5G, we are the real power of the technology. As we go forward with the Venn diagram, I would say 6G is there, it will be coming out, but there's a lot that 5G can offer right now that we have not even touched, in terms of industrial, robotics, industries, low-latency, high-reliability aspects. Those things have not even been explored yet.
What are some of the 5G use cases that excite you the most?
PANDIT: Automotive, because you require real-time decision-making, you require on-the-edge processing, you require decisions being made that are at extremely high reliability and low latency. Second, robotics and industrial precision. Speeds, and when it comes to consumers, I would say something you could download so quickly and enjoy. But I'm excited to see how the automotive industry will shape up with 5G coming in this space.