i3 | March 30, 2022

A Connected World

Cindy Loffler Stevens

Cristiano Amon, president and CEO of Qualcomm Inc. Qualcomm, based in San Diego, develops the processors, radio transceivers, modems and IP that increasingly allow everything to be intelligently connected to the internet. Think smartphones, laptops and TVs but also cars, robots and retail shelves. As 5G continues to roll out, millions of new devices will need Qualcomm’s chips, antennas and IP making each of them connected and smart. The company that drove the smartphone revolution is now setting its sights on being the technology company that is driving the digital revolution into all industries, including consumer IOT, automotive and industrial 4.0. As a leader in mobile, with its wireless and low power compute technologies, and with everything becoming connected and intelligent, Qualcomm has the critical technologies to be well positioned to execute on what has been said is the companies, “biggest opportunity.”

At the helm since June 30, 2021 is Cristiano Amon, president and CEO of Qualcomm Inc. who also serves on the Company’s board of directors. Born and raised in Brazil, he began his career at Qualcomm in 1995 as an engineer and has helped shape the strategic direction for the company in several leadership roles. Previously, he served as president of Qualcomm where he steered development of the product roadmap, spearheaded Qualcomm’s 5G strategy and global roll out, and drove the diversification of the business to serve multiple industries. Amon also led Qualcomm’s semiconductor business as president of QCT and other leadership positions including heading up Snapdragon® platforms.

Prior to Qualcomm, Amon served as CTO for Vésper, a wireless operator in Brazil, and held executive positions at NEC, Ericsson and Velocom. He holds a B.S. degree in electrical engineering and an honorary doctorate from UNICAMP — Universidade Estadual de Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil. Amon, is a member of the USPTO Council for Inclusive Innovation and is the chair of The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA). He recently talked with i3.

In the era of 5G, we are going to see a lot of disruption with Edge AI. And that is when AI is going to get to scale. It’s about connecting every device and as a result of that connectivity with the cloud, it’s also going to make every device smart.

Q What are the most disruptive tech trends impacting the industry?

A 5G is at the beginning of a very disruptive trend. We designed 5G so that it would connect everything. It will be the last mile in connectivity technology to the cloud. We have spoken about 5G being like electricity — we are not going to discuss use cases anymore. We are just going to say that everything is connected. And if it is not connected, that is the exception. In the era of 5G, we are going to see a lot of disruption with Edge AI. And that is when AI is going to get to scale. It’s about connecting every device and as a result of that connectivity with the cloud, it’s also going to make every device smart. When we talk about the future of devices, it is really the connected intelligent edge. We have seen the growth in the value of AI today. But we are just at the beginning of the transition. As we look at the evolution of mobility, the connection of physical and digital spaces in regard to the pandemic becomes even more important. And that is why we talk about augmented reality, mixed reality and virtual reality — a very big trend. There are other big trends like the transformation of the automobile that makes it a connected computer on wheels. And then of course, the digital transformation of every single enterprise which has indicated that the demand for semiconductors is at an all-time high and will grow as technology, connectivity and smart processing continue to impact all industries.

Q What are some of the 5G applications in the consumer, enterprise and industrial spaces?

A On the consumer side, 5G is democratizing high-definition video the same way that 4G eliminated CDs. Now you can stream music from every device. With 5G we are going to do the same thing with high-definition video in both directions. It’s going to make high-definition video as pervasive as music. The other thing that 5G will do is eliminate or significantly reduce the need for storage on your phone. You can store everything in the cloud anytime you want it. 5G also will bring on-demand computing. The high-speed and low latency for consumers means you can run any application that you want regardless of the computing power on your smart phone. And then you will have other consumer features such as streaming of mainstream gaming to mobile devices and to every 5G connected device including PCs.

For the enterprise, I am optimistic about 5G letting people work from anywhere. The number one-use case during the pandemic was people used their PCs to communicate. Video telephony and collaboration tools let people work from home. In the office the CIO is moving data to the cloud using Microsoft One Drive and other cloud storage, so you can collaborate with your colleagues with documents in the cloud. You are seeing the need for higher speed for the uplink as you are providing definition and eventually, you also are going to see the application of virtual reality and mixed reality in the enterprise as you connect physical and digital spaces such as in a conference room. In the future, every enterprise will have a 5G network.

In industry we see a lot of interest in using 5G in a number of different verticals. In manufacturing you will have the ability to connect with 5G robots. You can eliminate all of the wires and make it very easy to retool or build more than one product in a factory. You can provide a lot of cloud connected industrial cameras. And retail is going through a process of accelerated digital transformation. 5G technology is coming to retail in the form of different applications from connected cameras to self-checkout on a number of devices as it relates to point-of-sale. The list goes on and on, from healthcare to many other different verticals.

Q How close are we to a truly intelligent transportation system where everything is connected?

A We should be closer. It’s important to understand that as a car becomes a connected computer on wheels, and when every single car is connected — you can start to think about a network of cars. C-V2X is about connecting car-to-car, car-to-pedestrian, car-to-bicycles, car-to-traffic lights and car-to-road signs. We were successful as an industry to dedicate spectrum to this in every country and we harmonized the spectrum at 5.9 GHz. The technology has been developed. Now what we need is a government mandate to drive the industry to implement it. This is a safety feature that should be as pervasive as seat belts, air bags and anti-lock brake systems and that will drive intelligent transportation. Just to give you an idea of the benefits that are tangible, not only can you drive the industry to a zero accident and zero crash metric, but you can see a reduction of fuel consumption in the order of 20%. Those are significant gains and we should be closer than we are right now because it is no longer a technology problem, it’s a system problem. We need to bring awareness and partnerships between the public and private sector to get the technology adopted.

Q How have supply chain challenges and the semiconductor shortages impacted Qualcomm and the industry?

A It is impacting everyone. It is part of the process of digital transformation that is impacting every single industry and as a result, consumption of semiconductors is at an all-time high. And this trend is here to stay. We predict the industry will continue to increase in size. It is about getting every device connected and smart. That is what is driving demand. We expect a lot of capacity expansions to be put in place by the industry to start having an impact as we look into 2023. We are doing better than our peers. We took action earlier with our suppliers and the situation is starting to get better for us in terms of a little more balance between supply and demand in the second half of this year. Having said that, we still have more demand than supply. As an industry, I tend to assume that we are not going to see a slowdown just because communication and smart processing is really becoming important for everyone.

Q In a connected world, how can cybersecurity threats be defeated?

A That is something the industry has to take very seriously. As everything gets connected, the bar for cybersecurity needs to be much higher than it is today. And it’s simple to draw a comparison between somebody hacking into social media of an individual versus someone hacking into the smart grid to take down the power grid. It’s different consequences and a different level of impact. The answer to the question is we design our chips for security. Security needs to be implemented in every single element of the chain. It’s not about I have a secure network or I have a secure core — that doesn’t do it — you have to have security from the chip to the software to the network to the application on the other end. When you think about end-to-end security, identifying who are the trusted suppliers with next-generation technologies and how security is built into every design is important.

Q. How was your CES experience?

A Qualcomm was in-person at CES with a big presence. CES is becoming more and more of a quorum where our technology gets displayed because it’s impacting many other industries and to see a number of people in our industry. It was really great to participate in person at CES this year and have the opportunity to tell our story.

i3 magazine March/April 2022 cover

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