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5G Factor: AI Rising! Qualcomm’s Hybrid AI Vision, Nokia Puts the AI in AirScale, and NVIDIA Softbank Pair Up for Gen AI & 5G Apps

5G Factor: AI Rising! Qualcomm’s Hybrid AI Vision, Nokia Puts the AI in AirScale, and NVIDIA Softbank Pair Up for Gen AI & 5G Apps

In this episode of The 5G Factor, our series that focuses on all things 5G, the IoT, and the ecosystem as a whole, I’m joined by my colleague and fellow analyst, Clint Wheelock, for a look at the top 5G developments and what’s going on that caught our eye.

Our discussion centered on:

Qualcomm: The Future of AI is Hybrid. Qualcomm sees wireless and AI as two technologies that will synergistically fuel future innovations, including especially across the 5G ecosystem. For two generations now, Qualcomm has used AI to enhance modem-RF system performance across its Snapdragon Modem-RF systems. We explore how AI can play an integral role in powering end-to-end wireless system design in key areas such as energy savings optimization, network load balancing, and device mobility management and why the 5G Advanced era provides the foundation to deliver a standardized wireless AI framework to deliver new breakthrough applications.

Nokia Unveils Airscale Baseband Capabilities That Bring AI to Mobile Networks. Nokia launched baseband capacity cards powered by ReefShark SoC technology, including Levante for ultra-performance and Lodos for high-performance aimed at 5G Advanced capabilities, as well as the Ponente 5G Advanced baseband control card, Pandion Multiband Remote Radio Heads, Shikra outdoor & indoor small cells, and the MantaRay intelligent network management and optimization solutions portfolio using AI-driven MantaRay Energy to optimize energy consumption in mobile networks. We assess why the new AI-infused AirScale portfolio boosts Nokia’s O-RAN and Cloud RAN proposition and 5G Advanced readiness.

NVIDIA Softbank Collaborate on Gen AI and 5G/6G Apps. NVIDIA and Softbank are collaborating on a platform for generative AI and 5G/6G apps based on the NVIDIA GH200 Grace Hopper Superchip in support of Softbank’s plans to roll out at new, distributed AI data centers across Japan. The platform will use the new NVIDIA MGX reference architecture with Arm Neoverse-based GH200 Superchips, and is expected to improve performance, scalability and resource use of application workloads. We evaluate the prospects of the NVIDIA MGX architecture in moving the mobile ecosystem to scale and broaden adoption of wide array of apps such as AI, HPC, and NVIDIA Omniverse.

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Disclosure: The Futurum Group is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of The Futurum Group as a whole.

Transcript:

Ron Westfall: Hello and welcome everyone to the 5G Factor. I’m Ron Westfall, research director here at Futurum Research and I’m joined here today by my distinguished colleague, Clint Wheelock, our chief research officer. And today we’re going to dive into our show called the 5G Factor, which is all about the 5G ecosystem and the IOT and all things that are moving the 5G world, basically.

And with that, Clint, great to see you back again. How’s it going today?

Clint Wheelock: Well, it’s great, Ron. Thanks for having me back. Really good to be joining the 5G Factor for the second week in a row. We covered some great topics during the last episode, but as I mentioned then I think I’ve been around the wireless industry for about four out of the five Gs at this point. So it’s always great to dive back into some of the latest industry moves and developments. It feels like home in many ways, but I know today we’ve got a few topics to talk about that are focused on AI and that’s another subject that’s always close to my heart. I started covering enterprise AI trends as an analyst back in 2014. What a long way we’ve come since then. It’s been especially intriguing to look at how AI is being utilized in the telecommunications industry, being built into the network operations themselves to facilitate and orchestrate on a more efficient level, add a layer of automation to those networks, but also into the systems that influence really the full value chain and touching a lot of the customer experience as well. So really excited to sink our teeth into this discussion today.

And let’s dive in. And Ron, I mean, what are some of the key stories that particularly caught your attention this week?

Ron Westfall: Oh yeah, well I think you hit the nail on the head, Clint, AI is white hot. And with that one recent development that is of top interest is Qualcomm sharing its views and how the future of AI is hybrid and put simply, as we know, AI computation is split where and when appropriate to improve experiences as well as boosting efficiency and just basically optimizing resources. Fundamentally as a result, wireless and AI are dual technologies that we can anticipate will synergistically fuel ecosystem wide innovation, they’re basically joined at the hip. And as a result I anticipate that AI’s massive potential can be used to solve many of the intricate challenges that we’re seeing in wireless system design. For instance, Qualcomm Snapdragon Modem-RF platforms have consistently adopted AI technology to augment their Modem-RF design for two generations now. And we can anticipate per four out of five generations more generations of that consistency. And as a result, I think we’re going to see improvements in areas like system energy savings, network load balancing and device mobility management.

One key takeaway is that AI is primed to impact really every part of end-to-end wireless system design. And so Clint, now from your view, where do you see AI making impacts, especially when it comes to advancing end-to-end wireless system designs?

Clint Wheelock: Well, I mean, Ron, you raised some great points already just in terms of the potential impact and the outsize role that AI is going to play in the continuing development of these systems and architectures. And there’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the vision of autonomous networks. I mean there’s been some great progress in the market, but in many ways that vision remains somewhat unrealized. But I’m seeing AI playing a really integral role in some of the top priority areas like optimizing distributed clouds by enabling more complete autonomous networks. It includes making predictive and preventive operational operations on a continuous basis and boosting the efficiency by reducing the network factor. And so in addition to that, I’m also seeing that AI can really optimize some of the more device centric experiences with more efficient beam management and channel feedback computation as well as some of the other enhanced capabilities it offers like positioning and RF sensing.

But I think it’s important to remember that AI is really transforming the design and the development of air interfaces and areas like waveform and coding and bringing new capabilities like dynamic channel adaptation to 5G networks as well.

Ron Westfall: Oh, I fully agree, Clint. And I anticipate that AI will make an impact across all these areas, it’s already basically developing in that direction. And I think one additional key area that AI is going to be very important is powering radio access network intelligent controllers also also known as RICs. And what that means is that 5G networks can more efficiently manage interference, schedule transmission and basically improve coordinate of multipoint operations. And we all understand that these are capabilities that the operators are going to require to basically scale 5G, certainly when it comes to implementing 5G standalone as well as 5G-Advanced further down the road.

And speaking of 5G-Advanced, this is where AI can play an even more integral role. Quite simply the 3GPP began a work in 5G-Advanced back in the end of 2021, and this is basically focused on developing a standardized wireless AI framework. And what this means is the applications such as multi-vendor channel state feedback can become a reality. For instance, Qualcomm is prototyping the company’s Cloud AI 100 platform along with the Snapdragon Modem-RF system across its 3.5 gigahertz MIMO testbed. And what this is highlighting is that the capacity gain in a multi-vendor system, that’s the reality out there, can be enabled by sequential learning that prevents proprietary knowledge sharing. And we all know how sensitive that is. That is basically a fundamental when it comes to 5G security and being able to more effectively transition to 5G standalone and 5G-Advanced.

Now what I’m really keen on is the advanced millimeter wave B management that Qualcomm is dedicating development resources toward. And what this is enabling is predictive beam management for both the base station and device and its 28 gigahertz millimeter wave testbed over in San Diego. And the implementation decreases the signaling overhead resulting in increased usable capacity and extended battery life, which is naturally a benefit for the entire ecosystem. I think we all fundamentally know that better battery life is something that is on everybody’s wishlist and this is something that’s going to play a key role in enabling just that capability.

Plus, Qualcomm is demonstrating centimeter level accuracy in its indoor industrial IOT testbed. And what this is doing, it’s overcoming the challenges of multi-path reflections. Now downlink RF fingerprinting with AI can outperform other positioning techniques, certainly the ones that are out there today. And as a result this can improve downlink time difference of arrival. And you take all these together, there’s certainly plenty to like, and this is I think all pointing toward why we’re going to see a lot more coming out of the 5G world contrary to some of the skepticism that’s out there because of the over-hyping of 5G that we talked about on our last webcast.

Now next up is Nokia, now what else is going on out there in terms of leveraging AI capabilities? And Nokia recently unveiled a range of AI powered solutions to augment its AirScale baseband portfolio. Now these solutions will support mobile networks with AI, with the goal of enabling them to effectively match the exponential traffic growth and establish a sustainable network infrastructure that can offer again, better capacity and performance for all. Now from your view, Clint, what do you see that is attention grabbing about Nokia’s recent move?

Clint Wheelock: Yeah, I mean I’m looking at this story, Ron, I mean what I really found intriguing is the fact that Nokia’s newly introduced product suite here includes two 5G-Advanced baseband capacity cards, namely Levante and Lodos, and those are powered by the latest ReefShark SoC technology. Now Levante, which is a 4G, 5G capacity card, is designed to enable substantially larger site configurations than what was possible before. And reportedly it can reduce the power consumption also by about 60% and that’s pretty impressive. We’ve been sort of on the hunt for a number of years now for ways of reducing power consumption and network operations. And that is a, as you probably know and much of the audience probably knows that is one of the top OPEX items for any network operator. So that’s a substantial move.

So we talked about the first one. Now Lodos is also a 4G and 5G capacity card and it also provides some higher scalability and it can deliver around 30% lower power consumption. So that’s pretty impressive as well. Plus, saw the Nokia unveiled a new network management and optimization solution called MantaRay. And MantaRay is designed to use AI and machine learning capabilities to facilitate cognitive radio access network, or RAN, operations. This MantaRay portfolio solutions supports Nokia’s future platform for purpose-built RAN, cloud RAN and core network management. And with those AI and cognitive capabilities, it seems that this solution really sets the stage for advancing 5G standalone as well as some of the 5G-Advanced implementation, you had mentioned some of those connection points before, Ron.

Now Nokia also launched a ultra performance baseband control card Ponente, if I’m saying that right, which is capable-

Ron Westfall: Sound’s good to me.

Clint Wheelock: I’ve just seen it in writing, so sometimes you don’t know. But anyway, it’s an interesting name in any case, but unique. But that’s capable of delivering high speed site connectivity with throughput rates that are up to 100% higher. And now the solutions equipped with trusted platform module technology and like the other offerings, it also enables a migration to a 5G standalone architecture and 5G-Advanced technologies. And it can significantly lower power consumption again by around 80%, which of course is a huge contributor to environmental sustainability as well as the bottom line of the operators through that OPEX reduction as we were talking about before.

Ron Westfall: Yeah, those are all excellent points, Clint. And I see Nokia strengthening its radio portfolio for both cloud RAN and O-RAN by also introducing its Pandion multi-band remote radio heads. And in parallel with that, Nokia also launched Shikra, which hopefully I’m pronouncing correctly. And these are compact micro remote radio heads. And they’re basically designed for delivering greater capacity and coverage in street level environments where space is limited and certainly when to think of urban densely populated locations this is where this technology can make a key difference. And we all know that 5G is being deployed in these environments certainly already. But when it comes to 5G standalone, it will intensify all the more.

So, taken all together, what? We reviewed the Nokia solutions I anticipate or not only O-RAN and cloud RAN in compatible, but I see it assisting with the integration of the latest advancements in 5G that we touched on, certainly when it comes to the transition to 5G standalone. But also in terms of laying the groundwork for 5G-Advanced, which is around the corner in terms of already the development work that is going on. And so with this announcement, I believe Nokia boosts its R&D credentials across the entire 5G ecosystem and is taking AI to at least the next level within the 5G realm. And this is certainly a common theme that we’re seeing this summer. And so this is a way for Nokia to basically shine a spotlight on its AI credentials.

And with that, Clint, did you see any other key developments that demonstrate AI and 5G are coming together and making a big impact?

Clint Wheelock: Well, I mean, I tell you it’s hard to avoid the intersection of AI and 5G just like it’s hard to avoid the intersection of AI and anything in the market right now. So in any case, absolutely, I mean there are a number of stories we could pick from, but I thought one of the more interesting ones was the newsroom, Nvidia and SoftBank about their collaboration on powering SoftBank’s data center build using Nvidia Grace Hopper Superchip, which is utilized for generative AI and 5G and I think ultimately for 6G as well. And Ron, I know you’ve been following this story too and very interested in your thoughts, but a couple of initial impressions on my end and then it’d be great to kind of dive into your perspective too, but I know SoftBank has been building data centers that post generative AI and wireless application on a multi-tenant common server platform all across Japan with the goal of reducing costs and improving the fabric wide energy efficiency. And this all includes a top priority of continuing to advance SoftBank’s infrastructure to attain some greater performance using AI, including optimization of the radio access networks themselves.

And in addition, SoftBank has signaled that they’re expecting AI to help reduce the energy consumption, going back to our earlier theme, and generate a network of interconnected data centers that could be used to share resources and host a really rapidly expanding range of different generative AI implications.
So I know you took a look at this one too, Ron. I mean, what are your thoughts? What do you think are some of the key implications with the Nvidia and SoftBank news here?

Ron Westfall: Yeah, right on Clint. And I think first of all, we can anticipate that what SoftBank is doing is going to be emulated in other parts of the world. And when you drill down here, what we’re seeing is that the platform will use Nvidia MGX reference architecture that is leveraging the Arm Neoverse based GH 200 Superchips. And this is designed specifically to improve performance as well as scalability and the use of resources for emerging application workloads.

Now when you look at specifically Nvidia Grace Hopper, along with the Nvidia BlueField 3 data processing units, they are designed to accelerate the software defined 5G vRAN as well as generative AI applications without having to use be bespoke hardware accelerators or specialized 5G CPUs. And in addition, the Nvidia Spectrum Ethernet switch with BlueField 3 is set to deliver more precise timing protocols for 5G implementations. So as a result, the solution is designed to improve 5G speed on an Nvidia accelerated 1U MGX based server design, which is natural, but also it can deliver throughput 36 gigabits downlink capacity. And what this means is that Nvidia is asserting competitive differentiation. Naturally, the shot at CPU is targeted at players like Intel and AMD. But what they’re claiming is that when you look at the available data across 5G accelerators, they are asserting that they can now come out with a competitive advantage at this juncture. But stay tuned, we know that this is a back and forth battle. So this is just a way for Nvidia trying to gain more attention for its 5G proposition.

However, from my view, I believe operators have struggled somewhat in delivering high speed downlink capacity using at least today’s industry standard servers. So now we’re seeing again, advance in server design to company advance in design and architecture and chips themselves and of course the systems that are implementing them. So again, this is pointing to the 5G realm becoming more interesting here in the near future.

And I think one thing that’s also important to note is that Nvidia MGX is a modular reference architecture athat is aimed at enabling system manufacturers and hyperscale customers to build over 100 different server variations to suit their needs for AI, HPC and Nvidia Omniverse applications. So this is basically catering to reality. We know it’s complex out there, there are many different vendor supplied solutions, but that I think is intriguing that Nvidia designed something that’s specifically adapted to being able to run over any server implementation. So we’ll see how that plays out naturally. That’s something I think will gain some attention.

Also by incorporating Nvidia’s aerial software for cloud native 5G networks, the 5G based stations can allow operators to dynamically allocate compute resources. And what that means that can potentially achieve power efficiency gains of twice, doubling basically power efficiency gains. And so naturally we know that there’s sustainability initiatives out there as well as even sustainability mandates. And this is something obviously the operators as well as the cloud providers and everybody else in the 5G ecosystem, keeping a close eye improving 5G performance, but also meeting sustainability goals.

And with that high note 5G and AI, it’s joined at the hip, and that I think is a wrap for our show today. Clint, once again, thanks for joining. It was certainly great to cover these 5G AI topics with you today.

Clint Wheelock: Well, thanks so much, Ron. Really enjoyed it. And I look forward to coming back sometime, but sadly I got to give somebody else a turn from the team at some point too.

Ron Westfall: It’s all good.

Clint Wheelock: So, I’ll look forward next time, whenever that might be.

Ron Westfall: You bet. Yeah, no. There’s plenty of material. So definitely looking forward to our next show together and thanks everyone for joining. To our viewing and listening audience, as always, thank you for spending time with us and we look forward to seeing you again next time. Good 5G day to everyone.

Other insights from The Futurum Group:

5G Factor: Chips Ahoy! How Chips are Integral to 5G Transformation with Qualcomm Promoting 5G Standalone, Juniper Beyond Labs Using Intel Xeon/FlexRAN, and Samsung MediaTek Boosting 3Tx Antennas

5G Factor: Why the Cloud is Key to the Nokia/Red Hat Deal, Azure for Operators 5G Modern Connected Apps Push, and the Completion of the HPE Acquisition of Athonet

Futurum Tech Webcast – Qualcomm, Schneider Electric, and Capgemini Hoist Private 5G Capabilities to New Levels

Author Information

Ron is an experienced, customer-focused research expert and analyst, with over 20 years of experience in the digital and IT transformation markets, working with businesses to drive consistent revenue and sales growth.

He is a recognized authority at tracking the evolution of and identifying the key disruptive trends within the service enablement ecosystem, including a wide range of topics across software and services, infrastructure, 5G communications, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), analytics, security, cloud computing, revenue management, and regulatory issues.

Prior to his work with The Futurum Group, Ron worked with GlobalData Technology creating syndicated and custom research across a wide variety of technical fields. His work with Current Analysis focused on the broadband and service provider infrastructure markets.

Ron holds a Master of Arts in Public Policy from University of Nevada — Las Vegas and a Bachelor of Arts in political science/government from William and Mary.

Clint brings over 20 years of market research and consulting experience, focused on emerging technology markets. He was co-founder and CEO of Dash Network, an integrated research and digital media firm focused on the CX market, which was acquired by The Futurum Group in 2022. He previously founded Tractica with a focus on human interaction with technology, including coverage of AI, user interface technologies, advanced computing, and other emerging sectors. Acquired by Informa Group, Clint served as Chief Research Officer for Informa’s research division, Omdia, with management and content strategy responsibility, formed by the combination of Tractica, Ovum, IHS Markit Technology, and Heavy Reading.
Clint was previously the founder and President of Pike Research, a leading market intelligence firm focused on the global clean technology industry, which was acquired by Navigant Consulting where he was Managing Director of the Navigant Research business.

Prior to Pike Research, Clint was Chief Research Officer at ABI Research, a New York-based industry analyst firm concentrating on the impact of emerging technologies on global consumer and business markets.

Clint holds a Master of Business Administration in Telecommunications Management from the University of Dallas and a Bachelor of Arts in History from Washington & Lee University.

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