Qualcomm starts 5G war with new modem
By Ajith Ram October 20, 2016
- Shipping next year and five times faster than 4G
- Hyped 5G will not be mainstream until after 2020
UNTIL now, there has been a lot of sound and fury among tech companies about their 'leadership' in the 5G arms race. In a surprise announcement in Hong Kong this week, mobile chip manufacturer, Qualcomm, fired the first salvo of the looming 'war' by announcing the world's first 5G modem, the Snapdragon X50.
You can see the launch video here.
Qualcomm says the Snapdragon X50 5G modem is capable of download speeds of up to 5Gbps which is five times faster than the fastest 4G modem, the Snapdragon X16.
Initially, the Snapdragon X50 will support the 28GHz mmWave spectrum, the very high frequency short wave radio communication that has been associated with 5G.
To get up to 5Gbps, the X50 must support adaptive beamforming and beam tracking when the device is not directly in line of sight. Using adaptive beamforming, the signals are combined in a manner which increases the signal strength to and from a chosen direction. Signalsare combined in a benign or destructive manner, resulting in degradation of the signal to or from the undesired direction.
The Snapdragon X50 can also combine eight different 100MHz blocks of the mmWave spectrum. By comparison, the current Snapdragon X16 LTE modem can only combine four 20MHz blocks.
This means that when a mobile device moves out of the range of the 5G cell, 4G LTE will provide the coverage. According to Qualcomm, the drop in broadband speed during this transition will not be precipitous since consumers will tolerate a drop from multi-gigabit per second peak download speeds to only a few hundred megabits.
Application developers should also be able to count on a predictable high-speed mobile broadband link to the device to develop new generations of applications, services and user experiences.
Qualcomm's 5G modem will still need a 4G modem to use the standard LTE 1Gbps class services. The Snapdragon X50 will provide 5G services while Snapdragon X16 will provide traditional 4G LTE-A services. Future chips will integrate both technologies.
Unlike 4G, rather than faster peak connection speeds, one of the goals of 5G is higher capacity, allowing higher number of users per area and allowing consumption of higher or unlimited data - if your mobile provider will allow it.
In theory, using 5G, you will only need a few seconds to download a 4K movie. Data caps will also have to increase to facilitate this. 5G is also able to work in a vehicle moving at speeds of up to 500 kilometres per hour. 5G also aims to improve Internet of Things (IoT) communication.
But it is not all rosy in the 5G garden. Despite Qualcomm's big announcement this week, 5G is not going to be a first announcer takes all situation. To begin with, the 5G specification is still not completely fleshed out.
Regulators and carriers are trying to define what our future mobile needs will be, while the marketing machines of networking companies (including Qualcomm) are making premature pronouncements about what their 5G networks will do.
A good example of this is the recent announcement by Huawei and MegaFon about streaming the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The announcement completely ignored the fact that there will be very few 5G-capable towers available in Russia and China by 2018.
Not to mention actual devices supporting 5G in the hands of consumers. For instance, even though Qualcomm has announced the first 5G modem, it will ship to handset manufacturers only at the end of 2017 or early 2018.
In addition to the problem of insufficient and nascent 5G infrastructure, there is also the question of what type of 5G is best for society.
The industry's largest trade consortium, the GSM Association, identified this problem in a report last year. There are currently two competing 5G 'visions'. The first one is all about performance - pure speed. The second focuses on a technology which will connect billions more people to the internet.
While the first vision is sexy, it will also benefit only a small minority. Building 5G networks capable of supporting extremely high speeds will happen only in big cities. But the second strategy of a slower and broader 5G network is much more inclusive and will benefit millions more.
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