Qualcomm demos sub-700MHz 5G data calls via Chinese telco upstart

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American chip designer Qualcomm has demonstrated what it claimed was the world's first high-bandwidth 5G data call using the n28 (700MHz) low-spectrum band.

The call, which used the 2x30MHz arrangement, was performed on a smartphone-style device using a Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 5G model. The demonstration - performed together with state-owned China Broadcasting Network (CBN) - further showed download speeds greater than 300Mbps.

The American firm is working with local handset manufacturers, like Vivo and ZTE, as well as infrastructure ecosystem players like Quectel, Fibocom, and Gosuncn, to increase on-device support for CBN's 700MHz network.

While much attention is slathered over high-band mmWave 5G tech, which promises lightning-fast connections, the real game-changer can be found at the lower end of the spectrum. Lower frequencies provide larger ranges, at a cost of overall network performance.

Why would that matter for CBN? Because China, despite being highly urbanised, also has huge swaths of the country that are rural and less densely populated. The expansive Inner Mongolia province, for example, has a population density of 20.88 people per square kilometre. Compare that to, say, Guangdong province, where population density is around 579.46 people per square kilometre.

Low-band 5G will help connect those regions, which like their counterparts in the rest of the world are massively underserved from a telecoms perspective when compared to the major prefecture-level cities like Shenzhen, Beijing, and Shanghai. And that will help poorer rural communities.

CBN is a relative newcomer to the telecoms world, with the state-owned propaganda outlet broadcaster receiving its licence in 2016. Following its successful application for a 5G commercial licence in June 2019, it subsequently received a 5G test licence in January of this year, allowing it to trial 5G in 16 cities using the 4.9GHz frequency range.

There was a further development in May, when CBN inked a deal with local market leader China Mobile to collaborate on 5G networks, with the latter gaining access to the broadcaster's 700MHz spectrum in exchange for sharing its 2.6GHz spectrum. China Mobile will also offer technical support and guidance.

It's believed that this influx of competition will allow China to accelerate its 5G ambitions while providing a fresh influx of competition to the "big three" domestic carriers: China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom.

Qualcomm, as we know, is a giant of the handset world. Moreover, the firm is aggressively looking to push 5G to cheaper devices, thanks to 5G-enabled Snapdragon 600 and 700-series chipsets, as it fights off Taiwan's ascendant MediaTek.

Still, it hasn't been entirely plain sailing. The American multinational just signed a fresh licensing deal with Huawei, which remains firmly within the crosshairs of the Trump administration. Moreover, it has spent time dealing with an antitrust lawsuit, with a judgement against the company overturned earlier this month after a federal judge ruled the firm wasn't "anticompetitive", but rather "hypercompetitive". ®

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