Qualcomm has fleshed out the details of what's going to land in the hands of the 18 carriers who last week signed on for “standards-compliant” 5G trials.
The company last week said the 18 carriers will soon start to field-test its Snapdragon X50 modem, and it's working hard to corner the OEM business as well, with Asus, two Fujitsu units, HMD Global (Nokia licensee for phones), HTC, Inseego/Novatel Wireless, LG, NetCommWireless, NETGEAR, OPPO, SharpCorporation, Sierra Wireless, SonyMobile, Telit, vivo, Wingtech, WNC, Xiaomi and ZTE signed on to use the modem.
The carriers in its trials are AT&T, British Telecom, China Telecom, China Mobile, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, KDDI, KT Corporation, LG Uplus, NTT DOCOMO, Orange, Singtel, SK Telecom, Sprint, Telstra, TIM, Verizon and Vodafone Group.
Qualcomm's Product marketing director Sherif Hanna told Vulture South network services and devices are now expected in the first half of 2019, with a little snark for current “5G” demonstrations (without specifically naming the test at the Pyongchang Winter Olympics).
“A lot of the demonstrations right now are … not based on the global standard for 5G ratified by the 3GPP. It's using a competing specification that was used by a few select operators, but not adopted as the global standard”.
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The industry headed off the risk of a “profusion of specifications” by settling around what's become the 5G NR (next radio) standard, he said.
That standard, Hanna explained, supports an overlay for 4G LTE networks to get decent data rates into users' hands before networks are fully 5G-ready.
The 4G/5G overlap is, like the 3G/4G migration before it, a deliberate strategy: carriers upgrade their 4G networks, and will first deploy 5G in customer-rich zones like central business districts.
“In 2019, 5G will have limited coverage … we don't want the user on 5G, getting 800 Mbps or 1 Gbps, transition to 4G and get slow speeds”, he said.
The company's top-speed 4G modem, the Snapdragon X24, supports peak downloads of 2 Gbps (with the usual caveat that you'd need to be the only person connecting to the tower), and the X50 will push that to a peak of 5 Gbps.
Another leg of the strategy is to create more integrated RF silicon, because otherwise smartphones will run into power consumption and size challenges.
Hanna explained that's because 5G will support new radio spectrum (6 GHz will be the first to come into use) as well as existing bands, and OEMs won't want to be dealing with different chipsets for different bands.
Throw in other capabilities – spatial multiplexing, coordinated multipoint support – along with mundane components like power amplifiers and filters, and Qualcomm's betting the capabilities demand modem-radio integration.
“We've come up with a suite of intelligent [radio] components so the modem can change the configuration on the fly”, Hanna said, which is why the X24 introduced the company's 7nm fab capabilities.
At its 5G day yesterday (US time), Qualcomm laid out other 5G NR developments on its drawing board, including licensed-assisted access (LAA) for sharing spectrum between licensed and unlicensed applications; and Qualcomm's spectrum-share scheme called 5G MulteFire (a 5G version of a technology that uses unlicensed spectrum for LTE transmissions). ®