Qualcomm is promising to launch its first 5G modem in 2018, even though basic standards for 5G have yet to be established , nor even which part of the radio spectrum it will use.
Dubbed the Snapdragon X50, the San Diego chipmaker says its new modem will be able to deliver blindingly fast peak download speeds of around 5Gbps.
The X50 5G will at first operate with a bandwidth of about 800MHz on the 28GHz millimetre wave (mmWave in Qualcomm jargon) spectrum, a frequency that's also being investigated by Samsung, Nokia, and Verizon. However, the powers that be have far from settled on this area of the spectrum, with 73GHz also being mooted. In the UK, Ofcom is investigating several bands in a range between 6GHz and 100GHz. As the industry as a whole is a long way from consensus, this could be Qualcomm's bid to get the final frequency locked down well before 2020—the year that 5G is expected to reach any kind of consumer penetration.
"The Snapdragon X50 5G modem heralds the arrival of 5G as operators and OEMs reach the cellular network and device testing phase," said Qualcomm exec veep Cristiano Amon. "Utilising our long history of LTE and Wi-Fi leadership, we are thrilled to deliver a product that will help play a critical role in bringing 5G devices and networks to reality. This shows that we’re not just talking about 5G, we’re truly committed to it.”
Enlarge / A rather cutesy infographic from Qualcomm on how millimetre-wave cell networks might operate. Click to zoom in.
The modem, which Qualcomm stresses is designed to aid early trials for manufacturers and operators, can switch back down to 4G LTE if a 5G cell can't be found, which is just as well, as millimetre-wave frequencies often struggle to penetrate solid and semi-solid objects. Qualcomm's offering seems to be to increase the number of base stations (small cells), and then use lots of Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) antennas. It said:
Years of research and development have allowed us to invent technologies to overcome mmWave’s limitations. Instead of using only a handful of antennas (as with 4G), the Snapdragon X50 5G modem relies on multi-element antenna arrays. The antennas are designed to work together intelligently, using beamforming and beam tracking technologies, extending mmWave’s mobility and reach to non-line-of-sight scenarios. For example, the Snapdragon X50 5G modem can direct the energy of the mmWave beam, bouncing off obstacles to reach the mmWave 5G small cell with which it is communicating.
At the same time, the firm also revealed its next generation of Snapdragon chips on the first day of its 4G/5G Summit in Hong Kong. The three new processors, dubbed Snapdragon 653, 626, and 427, will supersede its current 652, 625, and 425 chips . All three chips are strictly pitched at mid-range solutions—there was no new reveal in its high-end 800 series, but all three apparently have support for several key new features.
Firstly, the chips integrate Qualcomm's newer X9 LTE modem, which it says allows Cat 7 downlink speeds of up to 300Mbps, and Cat 13 uplink speeds reaching 150Mbps—a 50 percent increase in maximum uplink speed over its previous X8 model. Dual-camera support—branded Clear Sight technology— taken from the 800 series is also included in the new chips, while the new Quick Charge 3.0 could deliver four times the charging speeds. The 653 also sees a significant memory upgrade, with its RAM doubled from 4GB to 8GB.
The 653 and 626 chipsets should be commercially available by the end of the year, while the 427 is planned to be slotted into consumer devices in early 2017.