Optimistic. This is the word we’d use to describe Ignacio Contreras, marketing director of Qualcomm, one of the leading companies behind the revolution called “5G,” or the fifth-generation internet. And he has good reasons to be, as the process of adoption of this technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, at a pace that has surprised many.
During the 5G Summit that took place in a hectic Barcelona from October 14 to 16, the Digital Trends en Español team was able to talk with Contreras to learn more about the development of 5G technology. The Qualcomm executive describes the importance and relevance of this network as follows: “What electricity was in the 20th century, the 5G network will be in 2021.”
5G devices go beyond phones
Contreras, who hails from Chile, reminds us that there already are more than 30 networks launched globally and that more than 40 manufacturers are already launching or selling 5G devices. “This year, we have seen releases in the United States, Europe, China, Australia, Korea, and more; we will also see some in India and Latin America. By 2021, or by the end of 2020, the large regions of the world should have 5G,” he said.
Thanks to advances like Dynamic Spectrum Sharing technology, Contreras believes the deployment of the 5G network will be relatively easy. “We are going to see 5G beyond phones; for instance, 5G in PCs or 5G in fixed internet connections in homes and offices.” The 5G network has been designed, according to Contreras, to expand this technology to many industries.
Evolution of the network
“The world today is very different from a year ago,” says Contreras, who adds that there was no 5G network available, nor services or phones with support for the technology.
“If you compare the adoption of 5G with the transition to 3G and 4G, there is no comparison. In the first year of 4G, there were only three or four phone manufacturers committed to make products, and there were only three or four services the first year. The scale with 5G is completely different,” he said.
The massification of this technology is one of the aspects that excite Contreras. “In one more year, reality will be very different in several areas. 5G will no longer be a premium product. Next year, it will be a reality for a wider range of phones, reaching the midrange ones,” he predicts.
He also foresees that, in the short term, the 5G coverage will expand quickly. Some operators, like AT&T, are planning to provide national coverage in the United States as of 2020. Qualcomm will also be working to take advantage of other uses of this technology, such as computers and internet services for homes and businesses.
In the long term, Contreras tells us that the company will bet on providing high-speed internet access for business environments, shopping centers or stadiums; in the industrial field, facilitating the transition from wired to high-quality wireless networks; and in the automotive sector, for communication between vehicles, like the joint announcement the company made with BMW at IFA 2019.
What about Latin America?
Contreras admits that the process of adopting this technology is uneven in other regions, such as Latin America. But, regardless, users in that region will also enjoy the benefits of the quick 5G implementation process.
“We’re seeing interest in countries like Brazil, Mexico, and Chile to speed up the processes to adopt 5G, with some of the operators getting ready. While there could be differences with other regions, 5G is being adopted faster than 4G. We’re seeing certain conditions that could favor a quicker adoption of 5G in Latin America,” he said.
Contreras says 5G technology is designed to work beyond cell phones, unlike previous generations. “If you look at the transition to 2G, 3G or 4G, all the cases and specifications were aimed at increasing the capacity of the cellular network to support more phones, with more speed. 5G will favor that, but it has also been designed to expand the capabilities of networks in other areas,” he added.
A steady climb
Contreras was born in Valdivia, Chile, a small city of approximately 150,000 inhabitants,located some 600 miles south of Santiago, the capital of the country, where his family moved when he was a kid. That’s where he began his career as an electrical engineer, which led him to his current job.
“I always wanted to study abroad to have some international experience. So, after graduating from engineering and working for a few years in Chile, in marketing and engineering, I went to do a master’s degree in the United States,” Contreras said in February during an interview at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019.
Earning his master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, took two years, but at the end of the first one, he needed some professional practice. Luckily, he was able to go to Qualcomm’s headquarters in San Diego, where he spent a summer. That experience opened the door to his current job.
“It was very good, actually. They treated me very well as a student intern, and after that, I had a very good relationship with the team that I was working on. Then,they made me an offer to join Qualcomm. So me and my wife, we decided that we could perhaps spend one, two or three years there,” Contreras told us at MWC in Barcelona.
In the end, it wasn’t a year or two. Contreras has been part of Qualcomm for more than 10 years. He started working in the automotive area, as well as in the smart grid sector, but a few years ago he joined the Qualcomm marketing department, where 5G became his work. His past as an engineer has helped him to better understand these new technologies.
What is 5G technology, really?
During MWC 2019, Contreras gave some clues about how 5G technology can be explained to the average person.
“In the history of communication, cellular technology is renewed approximately every 10 years. The first generation began around the 80s and was simply focused on the voice through large devices. In the ’90s, we saw the birth of the second cellular generation, in which the digitization of the voice comes, as text messages,” he explained.
“In the 2000s, we saw the emergence of third-generation networks and with that. we saw the first data, email, and multimedia messaging services, as well as the ability to send photographs. After that comes 4G, which is where we have LTE and, of course, it brings broadband internet to today’s phones … this is the platform and the technological foundation that allowed for the smartphone revolution,” he said.
Contreras emphasized that the 5G network “has been designed not only for phones to connect better and faster, because it will not only increase the speed and response level of the phones we know today, but beyond that, the network (5G) has been designed from the beginning to connect not only phones, but all kinds of things: Cars, smart fitness monitors, virtual reality devices, industrial devices, robots. 5G can be much more flexible, so it can help and be part of all these other new uses that we haven’t seen before.”