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Javier del Prado, vice president of Qualcomm: ‘With anything older than Wi-Fi 6 it is practically impossible to guarantee anything’

The Barcelona-born telecommunications engineer believes that users have to understand what benefits new technologies bring them in exchange for their money

Javier del Prado, vicepresidente de Conectividad Móvil en Qualcomm.
Javier del Prado, vice president of Mobile Connectivity at Qualcomm.
Raúl Limón

Javier del Prado, a 46-year-old telecommunications engineer from Barcelona, left the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in 2001 to study a master’s degree in New York and never came home, except for vacations. He has spent so much time abroad that it is difficult for him to regain his fluency in Spanish. He has worked as a researcher for Philips in the United States, for NXP Semiconductors, and for ST-Ericsson. After 10 years, he ended up at Qualcomm, the multinational behind the processors of some of the best-selling mobile phones and home devices. At that company, of which he is one of the vice presidents, he has worked to provide mobile phones with the best connectivity capability. Now the company is embarking on complementing this potential with the new Wi-Fi standard, the wireless connection technology that is used in 96% of homes.

Question. You have worked to provide connectivity capability that is compatible with Wi-Fi 7 and cell phones, and now Qualcomm is going after the home router. Why?

Answer. We started with mobile phones and routers in the retail market a year ago, and there are already quite a few designs on the market that support Wi-Fi 7. But it was missing the step in the connection between the infrastructure and the services offered by the operator.

Q. Operators say that, with the price war, it is difficult to invest to take advantage of technological advances and meet the growing demand for data and services at home.

A. The same challenge is found in cell phones. Prices have not increased year-on-year, but the technology has become more affordable as it has been adopted on a large scale. What we are also trying to do as an industry is to find new ways to monetize the service, giving the operator the ability to make a profit with certain applications and services that they can offer to the user. There may be a change in model where the user no longer only purchases the phone, but also certain services, such as their own entertainment package.

Q. Has the user demanded Wi-Fi 7?

A. The user is asking for an experience. Now you realize that certain things you do today work fairly well, but the applications are becoming more demanding and there are some that do not work well at all. For example, a mobile game shared with the rest of the family on a large screen at home does not work well without Wi-Fi 7. And there are many like that. There has been a rise in the multi-device experience, the ability to work with any device without leaving the same environment. This places a great demand on Wi-Fi because it requires many more connections between the phone and the laptop, desktop computer, or tablet. It requires much more bandwidth and lower latency [response time]. If you use wireless playback from a computer on a large screen, the computer mouse does not respond well because the latency is very high. With Wi-Fi 7 we solve this problem and give the user the ability to work with external players as if they were connected by a cable.

Q. A user might spend $1,000 on a mobile phone, but might not want to spend $2.50 on a professional application. Could that also happen with the latest generation routers: the user does not want to invest $500 or $600 in improving connectivity?

A. It is a matter of understanding. The user has to understand what benefits new technologies bring them in exchange for their money. They understood it very well with cameras and know that more megapixels mean better quality. With wireless technologies it is more complicated. The operators have to explain to the user the benefits they will get.

Q. Why are they going so fast? Why have programming and processor companies, such as Qualcomm, and device manufacturing companies gone after Wi-Fi 7 when the Wi-Fi Alliance has not yet certified it?

A. Certification is expected later this year, but we are going so fast because the demand for it is there. At Qualcomm, we see that the transition from Wi-Fi 6 to 7 is going faster than from 5 to the later standard. And our clients are demanding it. They want to be the first to offer it, especially in the most sophisticated products, at the premium levels. Wi-Fi 6 was also introduced before its certification.

Q. Technology companies have justified the massive layoffs by saying that the return to normality after the Covid pandemic meant a decrease in demand for equipment and services. Could home Wi-Fi technology suffer from the same problem?

A. Regardless of working from home, the demand for streaming applications and cloud services continues to grow. In the United States, many children have virtual reality headsets, almost no one watches terrestrial television, and all services are online. The demand for online gaming is increasing. Photos are stored in the cloud. Bluetooth demands more every day. Everything goes over the internet without cables and continually requires traffic between the personal computer or mobile phone. It is true that, during the pandemic, there was a need to update equipment and a lot of demand for online collaboration services. Now, the demand for applications is different.

Q. Is Wi-Fi that is older than the sixth generation at risk of collapse due to this increased demand?

A. It is clear that, as there are more and more devices connected to the network, congestion increases, and it will be more and more difficult to maintain the connection. Devices that are not compatible with Wi-Fi 6, at least, and that have lower capacity, will not have sufficient access to the network, and it will be practically impossible to guarantee anything.

Q. Should the user think about changing their devices now?

A. Phones have already been compatible with Wi-Fi 6 since 2019. With other home devices, work is being done to simplify migration without the user being aware of the evolution and to provide them with the service that they demand. The user is increasingly aware of the abilities and limitations of their Wi-Fi and their equipment. There are already certain applications on your computer that take minutes to load. They are aware that their bandwidth is insufficient. There comes a time when you have to think about whether you have the right media for your needs.

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