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Qualcomm unveils new modem chipset to help accelerate 5G trials

Groundbreaking component could catalyse the global race to lead the next generation of high-speed mobile phone networks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 7:36pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 10:57pm

The global race to roll out 5G technology appears poised to accelerate after the launch in Hong Kong of the first commercial modem chipset for new cellular devices that will work on the next generation of mobile networks.

California-based semiconductor company Qualcomm unveiled on Tuesday its Snapdragon X50 modem chipset, which is designed to support manufacturers in building 5G smartphones and other devices, as well as aid mobile network operators with early 5G trials and deployments.

The latest innovation from Qualcomm, the world’s largest supplier of mobile chips, has come amid initial preparations in mainland China towards 5G infrastructure development. Apart from being home to three of the telecommunications industry’s largest wireless network operators, China is also the world’s biggest smartphone market.

“The Snapdragon X50 5G modem heralds the arrival of 5G as operators and original equipment manufacturers reach the cellular network and device testing phase,” Qualcomm Technologies executive vice-president Cristiano Amon said in his keynote speech at the Qualcomm 4G/5G Summit in Kowloon.

High-speed 5G networks can theoretically transmit data 20 times faster than the current 4G speed, with less than one tenth of the latency, or the time for a data request to receive a reply.

Qualcomm Technologies is Nasdaq-listed Qualcomm’s subsidiary responsible for all engineering, research and development functions.

The company said it plans to start providing samples of the Snapdragon X50 platform, including the modem, the SDR051 transceivers and PMX50 power management chip, to mobile device manufacturers and network operators in the second half of next year.

It expected the initial batch of mobile devices integrated with the Snapdragon X50 modem to be available by the second half of 2018.

In his presentation at the Qualcomm event, China Telecom executive vice-president Gao Tongqing said it was important for the country’s three mobile network operators to collaborate with each other and with technology partners, like chipset and smartphone suppliers, to ensure the efficient transition to 5G services on the mainland.

With the Snapdragon X50 modem, mobile network operators planning to deploy so-called millimetre wave spectrum 5G networks can now work closely with Qualcomm to conduct laboratory testing, field trials and early network deployments, according to Matt Grob, the chief technology officer at Qualcomm Technologies.

Millimetre wave represents the band of mobile spectrum between 30 gigahertz and 300GHz that is being tested for 5G mobile broadband services.

According to Qualcomm, incorporating the Snapdragon X50 modem in live 5G network trials can yield valuable insights into the challenges of integrating emerging technologies in new devices. It said those insights can be used to help accelerate efforts to establish a global standard for 5G.

5G technology is expected to reach data-transmission speeds of up to 20 gigabits per second, compared with the 1Gbps currently achieved by 4G networks. Latency is envisioned to be 1 millisecond or less on 5G, compared to 10ms on 4G.

Qualcomm also introduced on Tuesday three new processors for mobile devices: the Snapdragon 653 and 626, which are expected to be commercially available by the end of this year, and the Snapdragon 427 due to appear in commercial devices by early next year.

Amon said a couple of the Snapdragon devices Qualcomm just announced were made by its Chinese chip contractor, Hong Kong-listed Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp.