OnQ Blog

Leading the RFFE revolution & paving the path to 5G success

Qualcomm Technologies’ RF Front End business sees rapid growth with Sony and ASUS first to integrate the company’s entire modem-to-antenna RF front-end solution

It could be said that Qualcomm Technologies has RF in its roots. Before we were the number-one baseband supplier in the mobile industry, we served as the world’s number-one RF silicon provider for mobile. And years ago, we recognized that band fragmentation resulting from a more complex radio environment would be an opportunity. Fitting with our mission to be the R&D engine for our industry, we set about to solve this systems-level problem, and the culmination of these efforts has arrived. Announced at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018, Sony and ASUS are the first major OEMs to integrate our comprehensive modem-to-antenna RFFE solution into their leading premium smartphones. This follows last month’s major RFFE announcements involving wins with nine premium-tier smartphone OEMs – I’ll explain more about that in just a bit. But first, here’s how we got there.

Solving the systems-level problems to support today’s flagship devices

Our unique approach fuses modem intelligence with comprehensive RFFE capabilities and sets the table for 5G RF success. We design our RFFE solutions to meet demanding specifications whether at the component level, as a module, or as part of our optimized modem-to-antenna system. We’re the first – and only – company that can achieve this and supply nearly all the RF front-end components and modules across the low, mid and high bands needed by OEMs to launch global flagship devices faster without compromising size or cost efficiency.

Our unique approach fuses modem intelligence with comprehensive RFFE capabilities and sets the table for 5G RF success.

Our RFFE solution is engineered to allow operators to fully utilize all the available spectrum – licensed, shared, and unlicensed – to maximize network coverage, capacity, and worldwide roaming. This helps open the door for more users around the world to enjoy the additional benefits of carrier aggregation and 4x4 MIMO combinations, delivering LTE connection speeds up to 1.2 Gbps and soon beyond.

RFFE gaining momentum with our ecosystem

Back to this year’s announcements: Empowering our customers with comprehensive, filter-rich RFFE modules across low, mid, and high bands this year is a key inflection point as the industry approaches 5G launch next year, and Sony and ASUS are the first customers to integrate Qualcomm Technologies’ modem-to-antenna solution in premium tier smartphones, as announced at MWC 2018. The closing of our RF360 joint venture with TDK was another big milestone that set us on the path to becoming a leading RFFE filter and module vendor by combining the capabilities of both companies.

And just last month, we announced at CES that our modem-to-antenna portfolio – all critical capabilities for 5G NR success – was selected by a host of leading OEMs, including Google, HTC, LG, Samsung, and Sony Mobile. Also in January at Qualcomm’s China Technology Day, we announced that leading Chinese OEMs Lenovo, OPPO, vivo, and Xiaomi signed memoranda of understanding with Qualcomm Technologies, expressing interest in the purchase of our RFFE components with a value of no less than $2 billion, in the aggregate, over three years.

Qualcomm Technologies’ history in RFFE is a history of firsts. At MWC 2018, we revealed the mobile industry’s first-announced hexaplexer.

Creating RFFE building blocks and enabling carrier aggregation

Qualcomm Technologies’ history in RFFE is a history of firsts. At MWC 2018, we revealed the mobile industry’s first-announced hexaplexer that utilizes the latest SAW and BAW filter technologies to improve the performance and simplify the implementation of complex carrier aggregation RF band combinations. We were also first to create an envelope power tracker and closed-loop antenna tuner, providing users with superior battery life and connection quality. Since those two products launched in 2014, we’ve produced four new generations across multiple tiers. What’s more, we’ve driven deeper levels of integration in those technologies’ front-end architectures, culminating with the industry’s first tunable 5G front-end – a real game-changer for OEMs developing 4G/5G multimode devices. Related to that, earlier this month, we announced 5G development plans with 20 OEMs to-date, based on our Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 5G modem family.

Prior to the launch of 4G, Qualcomm was also the first to recognize that band fragmentation was going to be the number one challenge in getting LTE devices to scale globally. We knew that 4G would bring significant mobile challenges. For example, instead of having just four bands in 2G phones or nine bands in 2G/3G devices, there would be more than 40 frequency bands in a much wider range, and each of those bands would require a separate RFFE component on your device. We managed to integrate these bands not only in a single transceiver chip, but also in a set of comprehensive front-end modules, a truly game-changing achievement.

We managed to integrate these bands not only in a single transceiver chip, but also in a set of comprehensive front-end modules, a truly game-changing achievement.

It was from the time we saw the problem coming that we set ourselves on a course – a multi-year effort through internal R&D, mergers, and acquisitions – to build system-level RF front-end capabilities. To date, we’ve built a world-class RFFE team, broad technology leadership, and the industry’s first and only comprehensive modem-to-antenna solution, which was no small effort.

With a pipeline of designs across all product tiers spanning the majority of mobile device OEMs, Qualcomm Technologies’ RFFE hasn’t just arrived, it’s leading the RFFE revolution and the path to 5G. We’re confident this will energize many amazing new Gigabit LTE experiences with flagship mobile devices that will be in your hands in just a matter of months.

Stay tuned for more exciting news on RFFE and a deeper dive to follow.

Qualcomm Snapdragon is a product of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

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