Jul 31, 2018
Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.
Years ago, when we started working on the technologies that would become 5G, we knew that the availability and wider bandwidth available with millimeter wave spectrum (mmWave) could be the key to unlocking incredible wireless speed. Qualcomm’s vision for a connected world requires a 5G network that can handle a huge increase in data throughput and a drastic reduction in latency, and to bring that vision to life we’d need to take advantage of super-high-frequency spectrum known as millimeter wave (mmWave).
But here’s the problem: millimeter wave signals are extremely challenging to work with. They behave erratically, bouncing off of hard surfaces, including people. And they get blocked by any obstacle in their path. Even putting your hand in front of the antenna will block the signal.
Given they are so challenging, mmWave technology requires an array of antennas — multiple elements working together to focus the energy of the signals into beams, which extend their range. That solution works well, but those arrays of antenna elements were too large to integrate in a smartphone. The mobile use case itself is challenging, and making mmWave viable in mobile devices required drastically shrinking the components enough to fit in a handset. With good reason, a lot of experts in the wireless industry concluded that mmWave wouldn’t work with mobile wireless networks, only in fixed wireless applications — where a mmWave 5G connection would replace cable internet or a fiber optic connection to the home.
Well, if there’s one thing our engineers love, it’s creating breakthrough technologies in the face of seemingly impossible challenges. Plenty of experts rejected CDMA in Qualcomm’s early days too, and it went on to become the foundational technology of the mobile internet revolution started in the 3G era.
In that spirit, I’m extremely proud and excited to announce the Qualcomm QTM052 mmWave antenna module family, one of the key components that will make superfast 5G smartphones and networks finally arrive for consumers.
We’ve designed a module family that includes everything needed to implement mmWave in a smartphone: The radio transceiver, RF components like power amplifiers that help increase the range of the signal, and the phased antenna array itself. We shrunk all this into a tiny package that will fit on the tip of your index finger, or in the side bezel of a phone.
The mmWave antenna modules are incredibly small, but don’t let their size fool you. They’ve been specifically designed for adaptive beamforming, beam tracking (distinguishing all of the beams arriving from the 5G small cell), and beam steering (changing the physical direction of the uplink beams to match the direction of the incoming beams from the base station). The modules also support up to 2x2 MIMO with dual polarization, increasing data capacity for both downlink and uplink signals.
And the QTM052 modules are small enough that smartphone makers can integrate multiple modules in a single smartphone. The Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 5G modem is the brains of the operation, working with the modules and sensing any incoming beams. While the modem is sending and receiving data on one beam, it’s also tracking other “candidate beams” as a Plan B, in case the current connection is interrupted. In a real-world scenario, if a delivery trucks drives in front of you and blocks the current beam, or you’re holding your phone in a way that blocks the beam, the Snapdragon X50 modem can use beam switching across multiple modules to keep the data flowing.
The debut of the QTM052 mmWave antenna module family has implications not just for Qualcomm Technologies, but for the entire mobile industry. Verizon and AT&T, the two largest operators in the U.S., have publicly announced that they’ll use mmWave for their mobile 5G networks, betting that Qualcomm Technologies would once again come up with a breakthrough that will make mmWave-capable mobile devices a reality. The QTM052 mmWave Antenna Module family, brings us one giant step closer to global 5G deployment — and we’re just getting started.
Our next step involves working to get the rest of the ecosystem onboard with mmWave to drive further adoption. We’re already sampling QTM052 modules with our customers, and you’ll start seeing them in commercially available 5G-capable smartphones in the first half of 2019. In fact, you may even see them in mobile broadband products as early as the end of 2018.
With the Qualcomm QTM052 mmWave Antenna Module family, we’ve managed to fit mmWave technologies into a smartphone, and we’re providing a viable path to commercializing 5G NR smartphones by early 2019. We couldn’t be prouder, or more excited.
Learn more about the Qualcomm QTM052 mmWave antenna module family, which will be in production in December 2018. In the meantime, get acquainted with the Snapdragon X50 LTE modem, the modem designed to support early 5G networks.