Qualcomm Introduces First Gigabit and multigigabit modems

Qualcomm announces new modems for future 4G and 5G networks at the company’s 4G/5G Summit in Hong Kong. Announced earlier this year, Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X16 modem is now available and will be leveraged on the world’s first Gbit mobile network starting this quarter. The operator is Telstra of Australia, commonly one of the first operators to leverage leading-edge wireless technology. Telstra’s network will be powered by equipment from Ericsson and the first enabled device will be the new MR1100 mobile hotspot (portable Wi-Fi) from Netgear using a discrete X16 modem. Qualcomm also indicated that the new modem will be integrated into the company’s next generation Snapdragon smartphone chipset. If history is any indication, that would mean a follow-on to the Snapdragon 820/821 in early 2017 and the availability of new devices using the modem in the second half of 2017.

The X16 is a Cat-16 modem using 4x20MHz carrier aggregation and 256-QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation) on the downlink and 64-QAM on the uplink resulting in maximum theoretical speeds of over 1Gbps and 150Mbps, respectively.

According to Qualcomm, initial tests of the modem are demonstrating average downlink speeds of 112Mbps to 307Mbps with as high as 533Mbps in areas with optimal signal strength.

Qualcomm announced the development of an innovative new 5G modem, the Snapdragon X50. The X50 is a millimeter wave modem leveraging the 28GHz frequency band. By using such a high frequency, Qualcomm is able to reduce the size of the antennas. As a result, a large array of antennas can be used in conjunction with Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output (MIMO) technology to enable adaptive beamforming, which increases the distance and potential coverage of using such a high frequency (note that lower frequencies are usually preferred for their ability to avoid interference from obstacles, such as structures). According to the company, the number of antennas is still being determined but could be more than 16 antennas in an array. As a comparison, most LTE modems only use 2 to 4 antennas. The anticipated maximum speeds for the X50 are 5Gbps on the downlink and 400Mbps on the uplink using carrier aggregation between eight 100MHz channels. This is all accomplished within the same power envelope of existing modems. Qualcomm anticipates sampling the X50 in the second half of 2017 with availability in devices as a discrete modem in 2018. Following the company’s usual product cadence, future Snapdragon chipset with the modem integrated would be available shortly after in early 2018 and available in devices in the second half of 2018. That means that carriers could be testing 5G networks with these modems later next year and with revenue generation in 2018, well ahead of early 5G schedules.

This frantic pace of faster modems demonstrates Qualcomm’s commitment to maintain its technology leadership. TIRIAS Research estimates that Qualcomm maintains a 12 to 24-month lead over the remaining few other modem vendors.

The X50 uses eight 100 MHz channels, a 2×2 MIMO antenna array, adaptive beamforming techniques and 64 QAM to achieve a 90 dB link budget. It works in conjunction with Qualcomm’s SDR05x mmWave transceiver and PMX50 power management chip. So far, Qualcomm is not revealing more details of modem that will sample next year and be in production before June 2018.

Verizon and Korea Telecom will use the chips in separate trials starting late next year, anticipating commercial services in 2018. The new chips mark a departure from prototypes not intended as products that Qualcomm Research announced in June.

Korea Telecom plans a mobile 5G offering at the February 2018 Winter Olympics. Verizon plans to launch in 2018 a less ambitious fixed-wireless service in the U.S. based on a specification it released in July. KT and Verizon are among a quartet of carriers that formed a group in February to share results of early 5G trials.

For its part, the 3GPP standards group is also stepping up the pace of the 5G standards efforts it officially started earlier this year. It endorsed last month a proposal to consider moving the date for finishing Phase I, an initial version of 5G anchored to LTE, from June 2018 to as early as December 2017.

The world continues to move closer to a global standard for 5G New Radio (NR), and it may actually be closer than you think. 5G NR is the ongoing 3GPP study item that defines a new OFDM-based wireless radio standard, which will become the foundation for the next generation of mobile networks. 5G NR and the possible acceleration of the standard were key topics at the 3GPP RAN Plenary Meeting held last week in New Orleans, Louisiana.

SOURCES- Qualcomm, Forbes, EETimes