What does it mean to lead the race to 5G? As someone that has spent over 19 years working on cellular systems at the company that led the industry to both 3G and 4G, it’s a question that I get a lot. 5G leadership is not measured by a company's promises for winning the race, but instead its ability, in collaboration with the ecosystem, to execute the essential milestones on the path to standard-compliant 5G commercial network launches in a timely manner. This path (or race) to 5G commercialization is not a short sprint, but rather a marathon that started long before the 3GPP 5G standardization efforts kicked off. There are many important checkpoints along the way to the finish line. And this month, as the first 3GPP 5G NR standard is completed, Qualcomm once again was first to achieve yet another significant 5G NR milestone — bringing us one step closer to making 5G NR a commercial reality.
Achieving the world’s first end-to-end interoperable data connections – our latest 5G NR milestone
Earlier today, in collaboration with Ericsson and a group of leading mobile network operators including AT&T, NTT DOCOMO, Orange, SK Telecom, Sprint, Telstra, T-Mobile US, Verizon, and Vodafone, we announced the first multi-band, 3GPP-compliant 5G NR multi-vendor interoperability. The interoperable demonstration, highlighted in the video and Figure 1 below, took place utilizing Ericsson’s 5G NR pre-commercial base station and Qualcomm Technologies’ 5G NR UE prototype, operating in both the 3.5 GHz band and 28 GHz band.
This builds upon the announcement we made last month, in collaboration with ZTE and China Mobile, for the world’s first end-to-end interoperable 5G NR 3.5 GHz data connection based on 3GPP Release 15 specifications. The 3.5 GHz data connection, which utilized ZTE’s 5G NR pre-commercial base station and Qualcomm Technologies’ 5G NR UE prototype, took place in China Mobile’s 5G Joint Innovation Center, as shown below in Figure 2, as part of the ongoing collaboration among the three parties.
There are two key aspects that make these achievements significant. First, these demonstrations showcased multi-vendor interoperable 5G NR connections, as opposed to end-to-end 5G demonstrations utilizing a single vendor’s equipment. This type of interoperability testing serves as a significant industry milestone toward standard-compliant field trials in 2018 and commercial network launches starting in 2019. Second, these demonstrations were compliant with the recently approved 3GPP 5G NR physical layer specifications. The demonstrations showcased the essential technology components of the 5G NR air interface, including the 5G NR scalable OFDM numerology, 5G NR advanced channel coding, the low-latency 5G NR self-contained slot structure, and support for 5G NR Massive MIMO and mobile mmWave.
Bringing all the pieces together in the push toward 2019 commercial launches
Getting to where we are today did not happen overnight. It all started many years ago, first laying the foundation to 5G with LTE and its evolution to LTE Advanced Pro, then envisioning 5G to be a unified connectivity fabric for a hyper-connected world. To frame our 5G vision, we worked with experts to understand the long-term economic impact of 5G, which is expected to touch on much more than just smartphones, but also essential to the future of the massive IoT, autonomous cars, connected healthcare, ubiquitous AI, immersive XR, and even use cases that are not completely known to us today.
And at Qualcomm, we don’t wait around for our 5G vision to become a reality, but we take charge. While others were talking about 5G, we have been researching, inventing, prototyping, and testing key technologies that are foundational to a better, more capable air interface design that is scalable to a wide range of services, deployments, and spectrum usages. We went on to create prototype systems and trial platforms for different 5G spectrum implementations — in sub-6 GHz that was announced already in mid-2016 and is now used for the interoperability testing, mmWave, and even for spectrum sharing, and committed to joint trials with an ever-growing number of leading mobile operators and infrastructure vendors around the world.
Since then, we have made tremendous progress on the path to making 5G NR a commercial reality. Not only have we led the industry-wide 5G NR acceleration in February 2017, but we also announced the first 5G modem in 2016, while continuing to lead the 3GPP working groups and drive our key 5G inventions into standards. To overcome the industry skepticism of mobilizing 5G NR mmWave technologies, we have also conducted a comprehensive study to better understand mmWave coverage in real-life deployments.
Another key component to 2019 launches is the progress toward functional silicon in the mobile device form factor, which our first data connection operating in the 28 GHz mmWave band achieved with the Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 5G modem chipset a couple of months ago. Together with the 5G NR interoperability progress announced today, they are both significant industry milestones toward rapid validation and commercialization of 5G NR technologies at scale. Combined with our 5G NR smartphone reference design, these are clear testaments to Qualcomm’s commitment to commercialize 5G NR in smartphones, for both sub-6 GHz and mmWave deployments. It also showcased Qualcomm’s commitment to commercialize 5G NR mmWave technology in a smartphone form factor.
In parallel, we have been driving continued advancements in LTE technologies that are establishing the foundation for 5G, as they will play key roles in providing many essential services for 5G. Gigabit LTE deployments leveraging LAA will improve user experiences and deliver better network efficiencies, complementing initial 5G NR deployments for enhanced mobile broadband. Other new LTE Advanced Pro technologies will accelerate the mobile expansion to new verticals, such as LTE IoT, C-V2X, drone communication, and more.
We will see 5G in high-end smartphones in the first half of 2019
There is a lot of excitement around 5G, and achieving the world’s first interoperable 5G NR data connection is really a very big stride forward. We are extremely proud with the progress we have made so far, and we cannot wait for 5G to make its debut in high-end smartphones in the first half of 2019.