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By 7 September 2015 | Categories: interviews

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They form part and parcel of any good smartphone experience. In fact, to be a little more poetic, they are the beating heart of smartphones themselves, responsible for not only the processing performance, but also mobile web browsing and camera quality as well. 

At the Heart

More than that, smartphone CPUs serve as a benchmark for what its users are capable of achieving, and where the country's technological landscape is. This is indeed an interesting discovery, it was one of several we unearthed while talking to Qualcomm's VP for Business Development (Middle East and Africa), James Munn. 

Acting as one of Qualcomm's key figures when it comes to ICT stakeholder engagement, Munn is better positioned than most when it comes to evaluating where South Africa is in the chipset and smartphone sectors respectively. 

Lay of the Land

When speaking to consumers, we at TechSmart often hear their frustration over the lack of broadband coverage within South Africa, as well as the insufficient quality of salesperson training and knowledge. While Munn admits that the former is indeed an area in need of improvement, he notes that the steps local service providers have taken in recent years are very heartening to see. 

"We are here to accelerate 3G and 4G technology's adoption," says Munn. He adds that the more successful local service providers are in that regard, the more successful Qualcomm will become as an organisation. With such a large portfolio and mandate on the commercial side of its business then, it is the smartphone silo that holds the greatest potential for Qualcomm, according to Munn. Furthermore, he notes that Qualcomm "not only focuses on the major brands that are using our (Qualcomm) chipset, but are also enabling and improving access to new brands, a lot of which are emerging out of China."   

As such, Munn believes that there is no better time for local consumers to invest in a 4G/LTE enabled mobile device. He adds that while price has proved a barrier in past years, the recent slew of value for money devices released by the likes of MTN and Vodacom are making this less of an issue. 

In fact, Munn is of the opinion that when 4G/LTE becomes as part and parcel of an everyday mobile experience as 3G has become, we will see even more users make use of the internet. To that end, while most devices in the entry-level to mid-range markets in SA are used to facilitate social media platforms, in coming years, Munn predicts a significant increase in online video consumption and creation alike. 

"A classic example, is the Steppa program we did with MTN, which was designed to show the industry that you can go below R499, and not about simply selling a whole bunch of phones," says Munn. "We actually used it (Steppa) as a Trojan Horse, and we were then able to get the other operators to respond, and now you have a plethora of low-cost devices," adds Munn.  

Choice, Choice, Choice

While Qualcomm's business is indeed dependent on integrating as many of its chipsets into mobile devices, Munn notes that they are fundamentally aware of the choices it leaves for consumers. As such, he advocates a greater degree of self-education on the part of consumers when it comes to the capabilities of chipsets. 

"For our customers, there are a number of different aspects. One is affordability, but the other aspect is the engine (chipset), which drives the functionality and allows the device to talk to the network, connect to the radio, graphics, processor, all of these elements," advices Munn.

He adds, "now the question is, you take those parameters and you pair them with affordability, as well as what's available in the store at that time." 

For example, Qualcomm's current stable of chipsets is essentially divided up into four distinct categories - 800, 600, 400 and 200 - all of which fall under the familiar Snapdragon banner. Further muddying the waters when it comes to the processors, is the different models within each category. There are also each chipset's independent architectures to consider, as two mid-range devices might feature the same chipset, but different architectures. Often, this element is overlooked according to Munn, and the calibre of said architectures can influence the quality and longevity of the smartphone, phablet or tablet. 

"One of the ways we've gone about addressing this, is a number of training programmes, we are training the staff in the retail sector," he notes. Munn says that effective training can make the "purchasing journey" for consumers far shorter than it need be. "If the person is empowered to speak more knowledgeably about the difference between a dual-core, quad-core and octa-core, that will help the customer, as well as the guy behind the counter dissect the requirements more easily," according to Munn.     

Welcome Home

As Munn looks forward to the future of Qualcomm's focus, the Internet of Things (IoT) takes up a great degree of emphasis. CES 2015, held at the beginning of the year serves as a prime example, with the number of connected devices on display being almost too great to list. To that end, appliances around the home, such as the TV, could very well hinge upon the performance of Qualcomm's chipsets in the future, empowering them to do a wider variety of things than they were necessarily engineered for several years ago.

"Think about it today and the home is not a smart thing. We pour water into it, we pour power into it, and it's not smartly managed," says Munn. As such, devices and appliances integrated into the home to better utilise expensive resources like water and electricity will become vitally important within the next few years, according to Munn. 

The same view is held of the automotive industry, evidenced by the likes of Nokia's HERE mapping software being recently sold to Audi, BMW and Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) for an estimated $3 billion at the start of August. With that in mind, the infotainment capabilities of a car's in-cabin screen, coupled with the types of services it can access, could prove as significant a purchasing aspect as its horsepower or fuel economy. 

"The car is a very important part of humanity," he points out. "We spend a lot of time in them, and we are going to see far more developments being made for them. They are going full steam ahead in terms of connectivity," concludes Munn.

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