Aug 20, 2019
Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.
5G debuted commercially in 2019 — in a big way. In tallying the tale of the tape so far: More than 20 operators have rolled out commercial 5G services in over 10 countries, and all major Android OEMs have announced flagship 5G mobile devices with most of them already shipping. All in less than five months since the launch of the first commercial 5G network in April. The fastest technology transition in the history of cellular is well underway, and it’s based on our foundational breakthroughs born from R&D investment decades ago.
While momentum behind 5G grows in the second half of this year, at Qualcomm Technologies we’re ready to continue enabling device makers and mobile operators in bringing the transformative speeds and capabilities of 5G to more people throughout the world. These are 5 things that will fuel 5G proliferation and capabilities in the next phase of 5G commercialization:
1. Sub-6 and millimeter together make a stronger 5G
Operators have launched 5G services using either sub-6 GHz or millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum bands in the first half of 2019. Sub-6 helps provide wide coverage and consistent high speeds, while mmWave uses abundant spectrum in 24 GHz frequencies and beyond to provide unprecedented capacity and even faster multi-gigabit throughput for mobile devices. In the next few months, select network providers are expected to start using both sub-6 and mmWave spectrum bands in their networks to provide their subscribers with the complementary coverage and capacity benefits of these spectrum assets. This is anticipated to appear not only in the U.S. — the country where 5G mmWave first launched — but also into other regions such as South Korea, Europe, Japan, and Australia. The use of mmWave spectrum is also in consideration in China.
Qualcomm Technologies supports 5G in sub-6 and mmWave since its first 5G products, and we are adding more capabilities and features in our second-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 5G modem and 5G Qualcomm RF Front-end solutions (RFFE) — to allow a new wave of 5G devices supporting peak download speeds up to 7 Gbps!
Smartphones based on Snapdragon with 5G sub-6 and mmWave capabilities are already commercially available, and more device categories including PCs, fixed wireless broadband hubs, VR/AR headsets, cars, and industrial equipment are poised to become 5G-connected using Qualcomm Technologies’ modems and RFFE. Moreover, virtually all major operators looking to deploy 5G in mmWave or sub-6 bands is working with Qualcomm Technologies for testing and deployment.
Snapdragon 5G modems and Qualcomm RFFE solutions work together to form the world’s only modem-to-antenna system available to date for 5G devices using mmWave or sub-6 GHz. All system elements, including baseband, RF transceiver, RFFE components, and antenna modules, are designed to intelligently work together to implement advanced techniques not possible with discrete components, supporting consistently high cellular speeds in more conditions and places, superior coverage and outstanding power-efficiency, in sleek form factors. The system is designed to solve major design complexities to enable OEMs to commercialize 5G multimode devices early and quickly at global scale by reducing development effort, cost, and time-to-launch.
2. The coexistence of non-standalone and standalone
Virtually all the first wave of 5G network launches uses non-standalone (NSA) architecture, which is an option in 5G specifications largely responsible for the accelerated rollout of 5G. NSA allows for a quick 5G radio access deployment by utilizing existing LTE core networks and base stations — a key factor that helped accelerate 5G commercialization one year ahead of schedule.
NSA is specified to support a phased introduction of the standalone (SA) mode of operation, which implements 5G end-to-end from core network to radio access — in other words, without needing to use an anchor 4G network.
Continuity of support for NSA devices, and the co-existence of NSA and SA devices in SA networks is built into the 5G specifications. For instance, all mobile operators in China are relying on NSA to launch 5G services much faster than originally anticipated, and then will steadily move toward SA mode with a requirement for devices to be certified dual-mode NSA/SA starting in January 2020. Single-mode 5G NSA devices introduced and certified this year will continue to be sold and deliver cutting-edge 5G experiences when operators in China launch SA networks. Our second-generation Snapdragon X55 5G modem supports 5G NSA and SA modes, with commercial devices based on this modem expected late this year. This product schedule aligns well with Chinese operators’ requirement for dual-mode NSA/SA certification.
Outside of China, the transition to SA will be facilitated by a game-changing feature called Dynamic Spectrum Sharing, or DSS. Deployed in existing low and mid bands, DSS enables simultaneous operation of 5G and 4G in the same spectrum frequencies and the smooth introduction of 5G SA. Extensive coverage enabled by DSS allows mobility and continuity for 5G SA services using unique 5G capabilities such as guaranteed quality of service and network slicing. With DSS, mobile operators can architect their networks to simultaneously support 4G LTE, 5G NSA, and 5G SA devices with broad coverage.
3. Comprehensive combination of modem and RF Front-end is critical
Integration of the modem into a system-on-chip (SoC) has historically delivered advantages in power efficiency and average data speeds for smartphones. This has been a staple of Snapdragon mobile platforms for over a decade, and Qualcomm Technologies already announced in February 2019 that its SoCs with integrated 5G modem are expected to be in commercial devices by early 2020.
With 5G, a more significant source of power savings is the efficient interworking between the modem and the RFFE. Qualcomm Technologies offers a comprehensive 5G solution including modem and RFFE to implement advanced technologies that help 5G devices achieve superior battery life, average throughput and network coverage.
Qualcomm Technologies’ early investments in 5G now allow us to offer the world's first modem-to-antenna system for commercial 5G NR smartphone devices, spanning millimeter-wave and sub-6 gigahertz bands, including baseband, RF transceiver, RFFE components, and millimeter wave antenna modules. This systems approach is creating a benchmark for 5G RFFE performance.
Take for example our family of mmWave antenna modules. Combined with Snapdragon 5G modems, these modules include key technologies 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. Therefore, 5G mmWave phones are a reality today.
Today, we are the only chipset vendor that has 5G system level solutions including both sub-6 and mmWave bands, which is important to global deployments. Our 5G system level solutions span baseband, transceiver, RFFE, and antenna elements as the components are tightly coupled together for superior performance, power efficiency, and board area. Our 5G solution is the world’s first commercial modem-to-antenna solution including RFFE. Competitors have yet to announce theirs.
4. Multi-SIM with 5G gains interest
Mobile devices with support for multiple SIM (multi-SIM) cards are very popular in emerging regions — with growing interest in developed economies as well. With multi-SIM, users can virtually seamlessly choose which SIM card they prefer to use for either voice or data.
Multi-SIM devices are designed to allow mobile users to handle multiple subscriptions on the same device, on the same or different networks. Users have the convenience of utilizing separate phone numbers, for example one for business another for personal use. They can also reduce service costs by taking advantage of a cost-effective voice plan with one network and a promotional data plan offer with another.
Other benefits of multi-SIM devices are that users can avoid voice and data roaming charges by having a local and a foreign SIM — a boon for global travelers — as well as manage different working environments such as home and business with separate phone numbers.
In the next phase of 5G commercialization, we expect to see increased interest and demand for multi-SIM capabilities in 5G devices. Both Snapdragon X50 and Snapdragon X55 5G modems support multi-SIM and several smartphones with 5G multi-SIM capability are scheduled to be launched in the coming weeks.
5. It all builds on our inventions
5G is built on our breakthrough inventions. Our journey spans from foundational research in the 1990s; through the first 5G-related inventions in the 2000s; to the first 5G NR prototypes, trials, modem, mmWave modules and smartphone test devices over the last couple of years. Now we helped make 5G a commercial reality with the Snapdragon 855 Mobile Platform, our family of 5G modems and Qualcomm RFFE solutions.
Virtually every operator around the world that has launched 5G so far, has done so by relying on devices based on Snapdragon 5G mobile platforms and modems. We are enabling more than 20 OEMs and over 20 operators to launch this year — across the U.S., Europe, South Korea, Australia, and more.
We are also supporting the faster-than-expected launch of 5G in China. When China Mobile and China Unicom launched 5G, a large majority of the 5G devices they announced supporting their initial rollouts were based on Snapdragon mobile platforms. In fact, 5G devices based on Snapdragon mobile platforms have been selling for months before any phone using a competitor’s solution was made available in the Far East.
5G is here, and this is just the beginning. More capabilities are set to be a reality toward 2020, helping transform industries and enrich people’s lives. At Qualcomm Technologies we continue working tirelessly to make 5G more broadly available, so people and industries worldwide can benefit from faster and more reliable connectivity — all sparking a new era of innovation that we call the Invention Age.