Last week I attended a coming-out event for some of Qualcomm’s latest processors, a massive update on its artificial intelligence effort (which included an innovative Quantum element), and a connection to 5G most likely didn’t see coming. I think this is a game-changer.
The nature of the San Francisco event was to highlight a counterintuitive impact of the 5G-led revolution: an increase in network edge intelligence.
I’ll make some observations about this revolution and then close with my product of the week: Microsoft’s Vision AI Developer kit, which was on display at this event.
5G Is Here
It is expected that 5G will move aggressively into the market, with near-complete major metropolitan coverage by the end of the year. This technology is a game-changer, but it doesn’t come without issues, one of which is the massive change in network loading. 5G will shift the bottlenecks from the wireless networks to the backhaul, where the expected massive increase in traffic will force some rather impressive network upgrades.
One factor that will drive this massive traffic increase, a 10x increase over today, will be a massive jump in intelligent networked devices. To keep traffic down so the network doesn’t experience a massive bottleneck, it will be necessary to push intelligence to the network edge.
This has led cloud providers to reconsider their huge centralized computing plants and to begin to distribute this technology. It has led firms like Qualcomm to drive far greater intelligence and autonomy into the devices themselves, so they aren’t as reliant on centralized resources, which hopefully will keep network loading to more manageable levels.
One of the big areas that 5G already has been transforming is hosted gaming. 5G not only provides higher data throughput but vastly lower latency, making gaming from the cloud not only viable but, on paper, far more scalable and lest costly than the traditional methods.
However, to keep data from overcoming the networks, the graphics in large part still remain in the device, along weith some of the intelligence.
I think providers are anticipating an increasingly hybrid gaming experience, so that the social and interconnected aspects of gaming on 5G will be enhanced, but the network won’t become even more saturated with massive video streams. I think this also anticipates a time when the game console may be embedded in a smartphone, tablet, Roku-like set-top box, or even in the TV itself.
Mobile XR Experience
The idea of extended reality in the car, particularly as the car gains the ability to drive itself, is compelling. This is because it could enhance the driving experience significantly if wedded with extended reality (XR). With augmented reality glasses, you could find yourself traveling through imaginary realms and taking part in virtual battles, even fighting with the passengers of other cars while your car autonomously continues on its way.
The final season of Game of Thrones began on Sunday, and I can imagine a long drive looking like a trip from Kings Landing to the Wall in order to fight white walkers using remote-controlled virtual dragons. Yes, you too could become the Queen or King of Dragons!
Powering the Factory of the Future
Factories are going to go through the most massive change of any vertical over the next couple of years, largely a consequence of the disruptive influence of 3D printing.
Manufacturing and quality control equipment will be able to network directly to cloud services that then can manage them effectively across the entire logistics ecosystem.
All of this tied to machine and deep learning cloud services.
Qualcomm’s Client AI
Qualcomm shone a spotlight on the AI Engine in its Snapdragon solution, based on 10-plus years of AI research, noting that makes its solution a winner is the company’s longstanding laser focus on power containment.
This is why Qualcomm’s products are in the vast majority of AR and VR solutions today, because power efficiency increases utility and potentially lowers weight. This focus is one of the reasons Qualcomm has led to the 7nm process being driven mostly by power efficiency but with some performance advantages as well.
Qualcomm also has paved the way for development of a variety of mobile-related capabilities, ranging from extended reality to sound processing.
This has created the potential for inferencing. The market for training and inference will grow to US$17 billion by 2025, based on Qualcomm’s estimates. (I think this is really conservative given the market need.)
Qualcomm believes that the greatest volume, and thus revenue potential, is on the inference side. That likely is correct, because you need only a set number of training platforms, but once the knowledge is captured you then can spread it to huge numbers of inference products that make use of it.
Put simply, you need a lot of teachers, but the numbers of students — inference — tends to be vastly larger.