Qualcomm Expands 5G Development Via New Facility In Vietnam

Ramish Zafar
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San Diego, California-based chip giant Qualcomm Incorporated (NASDAQ:QCOM), like other American companies, is caught in the middle of the trade war between the United States and China. The bulk of the modern tech industry's products are assembled in China due to easy access to labor and other incentives provided by local authorities. Additionally, the East Asian country's massive population also ensures that not all products that are assembled there are exported to foreign markets, with a big chunk of them also being consumed locally.

Nevertheless, a souring of ties between the U.S. and China has caused several big tech giants to look for contingencies to their operating plans in the off event that affairs go fully south. With this in mind, we've got more information today for Qualcomm's research and development plans for its modems and other smartphone radio front-end chips for current and next-generation cellular technologies.

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Qualcomm Opens New R&D and Testing Facility In Hanoi, Vietnam For Modem and Radio Front-End Chips

The information is courtesy of a new report published on the Vietnamese website 24h, and it reveals that the facility is located in Hanoi, Vietnam. Its purpose is to assist Qualcomm in developing new cellular technologies and to allow the company's local manufacturing partners to test out their products.

Within the testing center, Qualcomm will also look to developing image sensing applications ion addition to focusing on radio front-end modules for smartphones. Three sub-facilities, which include a radio frequency (RF) laboratory, a laboratory designed to test power consumption and performance metrics (PPT) and a laboratory designed to adjust image sensors and gauge the quality of sensor results, and allow the chip designer to better work with its original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) by enabling both parties to tune cameras and verify basic image quality.

Given that Qualcomm does not produce camera sensors, the term 'image sensor' as available in the translation of 24h's report refers to either the company's image signal processors (ISPs) that are integrated within a Snapdragon system on chip (SoC) or to Qualcomm's virtual fingerprint recognition sensors that also take the image of a user's appendage for security verification.

Qualcomm's Snapdragon 7nm 5G modem (right) and the QTM 525 mmWave antennas pictured. The QTM 525 is crucial in allowing the San Diego chip giant to maintain a lead over its 5G competitors. (Image Credit: Qualcomm Incorporated)

While the report does not explicitly state whether Qualcomm will also test 5G chips in the facility, it's clear that the next-generation cellular standard will play some role in the plant. One of Qualcomm's partners in Vietnam, VinSmart research and production, has already entered into a partnership with Qualcomm and Fujitsu to manufacture 5G smartphones in Vietnam. This will be carried out in the Hoa Lac Hi-tech Park in Hanoi, and it will be powred bt a Snapdragon 5G modem and IP68 and power management features from Fujitsu.

Yet, despite Qualcomm's decision to open a new plant (better defined as an Interoperability Testing Laboratory designed to cater to research and development only) in Vietnam, it's impossible for the company to move its modem fabrication facilities in the country as well. Right now only Samsung (in Korea) and TSMC (in Taiwan) have the technical capability needed to print circuits on the level of minuteness required for a bleeding-edge 5G modem.

To that end, TSMC is expected to commence producing orders for its advanced 5nm manufacturing process soon, and one of the customers is rumored to be Qualcomm. The outbreak of the coronavirus has put a dent in the San Diego-based company's high hopes for 5G market demand, and performance of upcoming products including Apple Inc's new smartphones will determine the consumers' mood towards next-generation connectivity standards at a time when purchasing power is shrinking and the need to work and study from home is rising.

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