American fabless chipmaker Qualcomm, sees India as a major player in the scaling 5G technology and in the overall semiconductor market in the world in future. In an interaction with the media, Cristiano Amon, the president and chief executive officer of Qualcomm, said that over half of the company’s employees globally may be based in India soon.
Speaking to journalists in Delhi, Amon said that Qualcomm has close to 18,000 employees in India already, and is expanding rapidly in the country. The company has added 3000 employees in the last 12 months alone, he said, adding that engineers in India are doing advanced research and development (R&D) for the company’s global product portfolio.
“India plays an incredible role in what Qualcomm is. I think Qualcomm India has a very broad role, and is a big part of our global development capability,” he said. “India has the ability to bring 5G to scale, of mobile devices, computers and fixed wireless access through broadband. It will benefit not only India but many other markets as well,” he said.
“India will bring that scale to affordable price points, which will in turn benefit other regions like the Middle-East, Africa, Latam and South-East Asia,” he said.
Further, Amon said that India’s 5G auctions have been “incredibly successful” and praised the government’s decision to make use of spectrum for private 5G networks. “We’re extremely impressed and optimistic about what the Indian government is doing and its commitment to digital,” he said.
Qualcomm makes chips for smartphones, automotive cockpits, RF radios and more, making the company a mainstay in the 5G ecosystem today. Although the company doesn’t own its own chip fabrication plants (also called fabs), it also holds key intellectual property (IP) licences required for the development of 5G use-cases. It partners with companies like the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited (TSMC) to produce its Snapdragon branded chips.
The company provided over 31% of the processor chips running on smartphones in India in the 2021 calendar year, according to research firm Counterpoint Research. Its chips run on phones from Xiaomi, Samsung, Realme, Oppo, OnePlus and almost every other smartphone maker selling devices in India.
Amon said that the company has been “very active” in telling its suppliers to diversify the supply chain for semiconductors to other countries. “If our suppliers are motivated to build in India, and have the right incentives, we’re going to use their fabs,” he added.
Unlike TSMC, however, fabs expected to be built in India won’t cater to cutting edge technology nodes. Most phones today use chips that are built on 7nm and below nodes, whereas India is expected to build fabs in the 28nm and above nodes in the next five years or more. Amon said that Qualcomm’s products, like RF radios, require higher process nodes as well, and hence the company also has use for such fabs.
Technology nodes refer to specific manufacturing processes in the production of chips. Smaller nodes provide faster and more efficient chips.
On the growth of 5G applications in India now that the networks are rolling out, Amon said that healthcare, industrial and other spaces should lead the growth of use-cases in the country. He also said that the millimetre wave (mmWave) radio spectrum, which typically lies in the range between 30GHz and 300GHz, has seen a lot of activity in India.
These waves are known to be more effective for areas with higher tele-density (the number of telephone connections per 100 people in a specified area). According to data published by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in May, India has tele-density of 130.17% in urban areas and 57.85% in rural areas, for wireless networks.
At the Reliance Jio Annual General Meeting (AGM) in August, Amon had said that the company would be working with the Indian telco on mmWave technology “to develop an ecosystem that can extend beyond India.” Jio bought 1000 MHz of the mmWave spectrum in each of its 22 circles at the government’s spectrum auctions earlier this year.
Today, Amon said that there’s a “lot of activity” in mmWave to provide connectivity in areas where fiber cannot be used for last-mile connectivity. “As we think about building a gigabit society, there’s only two technologies to provide connectivity — fiber or 5G. You cannot build a gigabit society over copper, so there's a lot of opportunity in mmWave for that application. The next one is private networks, (and there’s) a lot of activity about how to deploy mmWave for the enterprise,” he said.