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On track to solve another “impossible challenge” – mobilizing mmWave for smartphones [video]

Feb 13, 2019

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Overcoming the 5G NR mobile mmWave challenge

Feb 14, 2019 | 0:48

By now, you have heard a lot about millimeter wave (mmWave) — a set of higher spectrum bands that promises to unleash a large bandwidth opportunity for mobile communications. Not only will 5G NR mobile mmWave open doors to a vast amount of network capacity that could fuel the unlimited smartphone data plans we have come to love, but its fiber-like speeds and ultra-low latencies could also bring new and enhanced 5G mobile experiences to the masses, including boundless mobile extended reality (XR), private indoor enterprises, and many more.

5G NR mmWave will bring new and enhanced mobile experiences
5G NR mmWave will bring new and enhanced mobile experiences

Breaking down technology barriers to commercialize 5G NR mobile mmWave

Mobilizing mmWave was considered an “impossible challenge” by many technology skeptics, as they didn’t believe mmWave could ever be made feasible or practical for mobile use cases. As R&D lead for the 5G mmWave project, I must say now is a great time to reflect on how far we have come with mobile mmWave technologies as we are about to see the first commercial 5G NR mmWave smartphones. Below is a summary of the four primary mobile mmWave barriers and how we are overcoming them.

Overcoming the mobile mmWave challenge
Overcoming the mobile mmWave challenge

For decades, Qualcomm has helped enable the entire mobile ecosystem and power many of the most common and compelling smartphone capabilities.  It’s in our DNA to take on difficult challenges, and mobilizing mmWave is a unique system-level problem that requires deep wireless expertise and experience. We have been working on foundational mmWave and advanced RF technology research for more than 10 years now. We first showcased robust non-line-of-sight mmWave mobility in late 2015 and since have been laser focused on commercializing mobile mmWave for 5G. Within just a year of our first public showcase, we introduced the world’s first announced commercial 5G modem — the Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 modem.

The year 2017 was monumental for mmWave, as we kicked off the year demonstrating mmWave vehicle and pedestrian mobility in real usage scenarios with inter-cell handovers at Mobile World Congress, proving that mmWave can indeed be mobile. In March, we led the mobile ecosystem to accelerate the 5G NR timeline to enable early 2019 commercial deployments, which resulted in the completion of the first 5G NR specifications in December. And that wasn’t all for 2017. We also showed that mobile operators can achieve significant mmWave coverage simply by co-siting mmWave with existing LTE infrastructure, proving that deploying mmWave can be done in a cost-efficient manner. Moreover, we also made the first 5G NR standards-compliant data connections and announced our formfactor smartphone reference design to prove that mmWave can fit inside a mobile formfactor.

By early 2018, we completed 5G NR interoperability testing with all major infrastructure vendors supporting mmWave — Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung (and even more with Sub-6). In July, we announced the world’s first commercial fully integrated 5G NR mmWave antenna module family, the Qualcomm QTM052, followed by an even smaller variant in October, which will pair with our Snapdragon X50 5G modem family designed to deliver modem-to-antenna capabilities across spectrum bands. In addition, we also made the first announced 5G NR mmWave data connection using our X50-based mobile formfactor devices with Ericsson and later with Nokia, as well as started many field trials with leading global operators. In December, we provided a glimpse of the first live 5G networks and devices at our third-annual Snapdragon Technology Summit, and announced the Snapdragon 855 Mobile Platform that will power the next generation 5G smartphones and mobile devices.

Our system approach to solve the mobile mmWave challenge
Our system approach to solve the mobile mmWave challenge

Ready for 5G NR mobile mmWave launches in 2019


Many years in the making to commercialize mobile mmWave

Qualcomm began it's road to 5G as early as 1990

Check out the road to 5G NR mmWave with Qualcomm

The year 2019 is destined to be remarkably exciting, as our 5G vision turns into a commercial reality. We expect mobile devices based on 3GPP Release 15 specifications to hit the market starting in the first half of the year. The ecosystem momentum for mobile mmWave is strong and continues to build. Regions that target mmWave deployments in the 2019 timeframe span across North America, Europe, and Asia, with many countries already having held their initial mmWave spectrum auctions (e.g., South Korea completed in June, Italy completed in September, and the U.S. has been on-going since November), of which all are in the 26/28 GHz band. We expect to see even more mmWave spectrum auctions in 2019 across regions, including the U.S. for 24, 37, 39, and 47 GHz.

Expanding new business opportunities with 5G NR mmWave

While the initial focus for mobile operators is to quickly expand network capacities by starting deployments of 5G NR mmWave in existing dense urban markets, there are even more opportunities for mmWave beyond traditional macro networks. One area of interest is to bring mmWave indoors to address the exploding demand of fiber-like wireless broadband access in crowded venues, such as convention centers, concert halls, and stadiums. These venues have traditionally been challenged with limited network capacity, thereby constrained with the quality of service (e.g., slow speeds and unreliable connectivity) they can deliver. With mmWave’s significantly wider bandwidth and high spatial multiplexing gains, mobile operators and service providers could rapidly make multi-Gigabit, low-latency connectivity available to a large number of users.

Another exciting opportunity for mmWave is for private indoor enterprises, including offices, shop floors, meeting rooms and more. Imagine having virtually unlimited capacity and fiber-like wireless connectivity for your devices at work, no matter if it’s a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or mobile extended reality (XR). For these indoor deployment scenarios, we have also performed extensive study to show that significant coverage (i.e., >90%) and multi-Gbps median speeds can be achieved simply by co-siting mmWave small cells with existing LTE or Wi-Fi access points.

Taking 5G NR mmWave indoors to elevate mobile experiences
Taking 5G NR mmWave indoors to elevate mobile experiences

Further mmWave enhancements coming

While 3GPP Release 15 established the foundation for 5G NR mmWave, delivering on the key technologies to make it mobile, mmWave continues to evolve for improved performance, reliability, and efficiency. New capabilities are also being worked on in Release 16 projects, including wideband positioning, support for spectrum bands above 52.6 GHz, and integrated access and backhaul (IAB), which could ease the deployment of 5G NR small cells by allowing the reuse of the same spectrum and equipment for access and backhaul.

To learn more about 5G NR mmWave, download the latest 5G NR mmWave presentation, visit our 5G NR mmWave webpage, and watch this Fierce Wireless webinar.


Qualcomm Snapdragon and Qualcomm QTM052 are products of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.


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Ozge Koymen

Senior Director, Technology, Qualcomm Technologies