Qualcomm Is Making 5G A Reality For The Mainstream Market In 2020

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Qualcomm has been at the forefront of 5G development with its Snapdragon X50 modem, which began shipping in smartphone this year. The Snapdragon X50 is the modem of choice for most of today's shipping flagship 5G-enabled devices including the Galaxy Note 10 5G and OnePlus 7 Pro 5G. However, despite the obvious performance benefits of having a 5G modem in these first-generation devices, there are a few downsides to Qualcomm's current implementation.

For starters, the Snapdragon X50 (and its Snapdragon X55 successor) are standalone chips. They are separate from the primary SoC, and hence take up additional space on a smartphone's PCB. Given that space in smartphones is a premium, OEMs would prefer to avoid this situation whenever possible. Secondly, having a separate chip for the modem is not as power efficient as having it integrated into the SoC; and power drain is the enemy of all mobile devices.

Qualcomm is tackling both of these issues head-on with the announcement today that it will release top-to-bottom Snapdragon SoC platforms with integrated 5G in 2020. Qualcomm had previously told us that it would produce a flagship Snapdragon SoC (8 Series) with integrated 5G in 2020, but today's announcement extends that commitment to its Snapdragon 7 and Snapdragon 6 Series SoCs as well.

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And unlike competing solutions from Huawei and MediaTek -- which only support sub-6GHz spectrum for 5G -- Qualcomm's integrated solutions will truly be global by supporting mmWave technology which is being embraced in the United States for short-range 5G connectivity. During this early stage of 5G deployments, wireless carriers like Verizon are hitting speeds in excess of 1Gbps with mmWave.

Qualcomm is not giving any specifics at the moment on when its Snapdragon 8 Series 5G Mobile Platform will be released, but it says that it will clarify its plans later this year. Our expectation is that these chips will likely be available in flagship devices during the first quarter of 2020 (i.e. a hypothetical Samsung Galaxy S11 5G).

As for the Snapdragon 7 Series 5G Mobile Platform, the company says that it began sampling this chip to customers during the second quarter of 2019, and that shipping devices will arrive early in 2020. Qualcomm has a number of top OEMs onboard for this particular platform including LG, Motorola, OPPO, Vivo and Nokia. As for the Snapdragon 6 Series 5G Mobile Platform, Qualcomm is expecting commercial availability during the second half of 2020.

While 5G has gotten off to a relatively slow start in 2019, all four major U.S. carriers -- Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint -- have launched their networks with limited penetration. However, those 5G ramps are expected to accelerate greatly in 2020 and beyond. So, Qualcomm stands poised to take full advantage of this growth opportunity with a full slate of fully-integrated 5G platforms covering the mid-range to flagship-level smartphones.

qualcomm qtm527 mmwave antenna module
QTM527 mmWave Antenna Module

In related news, Qualcomm announced the QTM527, which is a new high-powered mmWave antenna module intended to deliver fixed wireless access (FWA) for home broadband (think Verizon 5G Home). With this solution, communities can skip the expensive process of installing "last mile" fiber to the home. The mmWave antenna is capable of providing equivalent speeds to fixed fiber installations, while also being able to serve a greater number of customers in the process.

The QTM527 mmWave antenna module is part of the rebranded Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF System and will begin sampling to customers during the first half 2020.