January 28, 2021

Qualcomms

As I’ve said many times before, I believe fully autonomous vehicles will be one of the most impactful technological innovations in our lifetimes. As the industry grows and autonomous vehicles become more advanced and ubiquitous, there will be an immense market opportunity for those involved in making these automobiles tick. One tech company that has been involved in automotive for a long time (almost 20 years, for that matter) is Qualcomm, who realized, perhaps earlier than any of its competitors, that cars were going to need wireless connectivity. While a small number of very well-entrenched incumbents had traditionally dominated the auto industry, the shift to more advanced, connected cars opened up a niche that the usual players simply could not fill. And the bill of materials just keeps getting higher.

Last week, Qualcomm announced some incredible quarterly earnings with an equally impressive forecast. The company also officially broke out its “growth businesses” for fiscal 2020 and 2019. One of these areas was automotive which the company cited an $8B backlog and a 2020 business that surprisingly, was larger than NVIDIA’s.

Mobile connectivity is, of course, Qualcomm’s bread and butter. You’ve almost certainly used a smartphone featuring a Qualcomm modem at some point. Extending this expertise to automotive was a natural fit, as auto interfaces were increasingly modeled after, and designed to be compatible with, smartphones. It was a big opportunity, and Qualcomm jumped on it.

Flash forward to the present, and the company is leveraging its supply chain rapport with automakers to dive headfirst into the autonomous driving market. Today, Qualcomm is a leader in 5G—the high-performance, low-latency connectivity that is essential to the next generation of automobiles, IoT and AR/VR (just to name a few). The company is leveraging this, and the rest of its extensive IP portfolio, to drive features such as infotainment, ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems), Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, C-V2X, advanced vehicle positioning (down to the lane), car-to-cloud and more. I recently got the chance to talk with Nakul Duggal, the newly instated lead of Qualcomm’s auto business, and pick his brain on Qualcomm’s trajectory in the industry. Here are my takeaways.

Some background

I’ve been seeing Duggal around for years now, on stage at places like CES and Mobile World Congress. He’s not a new face at Qualcomm, having started with the company in 1995. He’s been working in Qualcomm’s automotive business for almost ten years, and frankly, his promotion to business lead did not surprise me.

Duggal refreshed me on Qualcomm’s recent history in automotive. The company is currently on its 9th generation of modems for vehicles, and in 2016, it began working with Audi to bring its infotainment applications processors to the industry. Since then, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon digital cockpits have scored design wins with 20 different automakers. The company unveiled its 3rd generation Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit Platform back at CES 2019 (see coverage here), and though it feels like a lifetime ago, it

…...