Qualcomm today announced its next 5G-capable modem, which will debut in 2020 and hit download speeds of 7 Gbps. That’s a nearly 30 percent performance improvement over its predecessor, which maxes out at 5 Gbps.
“Qualcomm is spearheading the first wave of 5G launches with our first generation 5G mobile platform” a statement credited to Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon says. “With significant evolution in capabilities and performance, our second generation commercial 5G modem is a true testament to the maturity and leadership of our 5G technology. We expect our 5G platform to accelerate 5G commercial momentum and power virtually all 5G launches in 2019 while significantly expanding the global 5G rollout footprint.”
As the world’s biggest maker of mobile chipsets, Qualcomm is hoping that the 5G wave will cement its dominance, and it has aggressively pushed its 5G chipset capabilities since late 2017. But this year marks the first time that its handset maker partners will actually start delivering 5G-capable silicon in their products. And that means it’s time for the 5G marketing promises to confront reality.
Qualcomm’s first 5G-capable modem, the Snapdragon X50, is capable of 5 Gbps peak download speeds, but it has limited 5G network support and needs to be paired with a Snapdragon processor that has built-in Gigabit LTE capabilities. But the second-generation Snapdragon X55 that Qualcomm announced today is a big step up. It supports 7 Gbps peak download speeds and 3 Gbps upload speeds over 5G and has integrated Category 22 Gigabit LTE capabilities with 2.5 Gbps download speeds.
And with its broader compatibility—it supports all major 5G frequency bands—the X55 is Qualcomm’s first 5G modem ready for a global rollout. Qualcomm says the X55 and supporting chipsets are designed for a wide range of device types, too, including premium smartphones, mobile hotspots, Always Connected PCs, laptops, tablets, fixed wireless access points, extended reality devices, and automotive applications.
That said, it’s unlikely we’ll see any major device releases with integrated X55 support until 2020. So all of the flagship smartphones announced this month—Samsung’s new Galaxy S10 family tomorrow and then a slew of other handsets at Mobile World Congress next week—will all utilize LTE-only chipsets or perhaps the Snapdragon X50 instead. (Given the current legal drama between Apple and Qualcomm, it’s likely that the next iPhone lineup will use even slower Intel parts.)
Of course, even at 7 Gbps, the X55 falls well short of the ultimate promise of 5G networking, which Qualcomm says will hit 20 Gbps peak download speeds by the time it’s fully realized worldwide in the next several years. We’ll be living in the LTE world—and the sub-LTE world—for many years to come.