Qualcomm on Monday unveiled the world’s first 5G wireless chip, the Snapdragon X50 modem. It’s initially aimed at both phones and gear like home wireless networks. And it should be in devices in the first half of 2018.
5G may be in your phone sooner than you think. The X50 represents the next baby step toward 5G, which is expected to be 100 times faster than our current wireless technology and 10 times speedier than what Google Fiber offers through a physical connection to the home. Typically, when a new wireless technology becomes available, it first shows up in standalone devices like wireless hotspots. But Qualcomm is already working on getting it into phones.
The X50 processor also has some limitations. It only connects to 5G networks, so to hook up to an older 4G or 3G network, you’ll need a second wireless chip. Qualcomm hopes phone makers will opt to pair the X50 with its Snapdragon line of processors that integrate the brains of the device with the wireless connectivity. Companies like LG and HTC use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon line, but Apple does not.
What Is 5G?
5G is a new network system that has much higher speeds and capacity, and much lower latency, than existing cellular systems. The technologies to be used in 5G are still being defined, but there are some general themes everyone agrees on.
5G networks will use a type of encoding called OFDM, which is similar to the encoding that LTE uses. The air interface will be designed for much lower latency and greater flexibility than LTE, though.
The new networks can use frequencies as low as old TV channels, or as high as “millimeter wave,” which are frequencies that can transmit huge amounts of data, but only a few blocks at a time. 5G may also bring in Wi-Fi as a seamless part of a cellular network, or transmit LTE-encoded data over Wi-Fi frequencies, which is called LTE Unlicensed.
5G networks are much more likely to be networks of small cells, even down to the size of home routers, than to be huge towers radiating great distances. Some of that is because of the nature of the frequencies used, but a lot of that is to expand network capacity.
5G (5th generation mobile networks denotes the proposed next major phase of mobile telecommunications standards beyond the current 4G/IMT-Advanced standards. Rather than faster peak Internet connection speeds, 5G planning aims at higher capacity than current 4G, allowing higher number of mobile broadband users per area unit, and allowing consumption of higher or unlimited data quantities in gigabyte per month and user. This would make it feasible for a large portion of the population to consume high-quality streaming media many hours per day in their mobile devices, also when out of reach of wifi hotspots. 5G research and development also aims at improved support of machine to machine communication, also known as the Internet of things, aiming at lower cost, lower battery consumption and lower latency than 4G equipment.
There is currently no standard for 5G deployments. The Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance defines the following requirements that a 5G standard should fulfill:
- Data rates of tens of megabits per second for tens of thousands of users
- 1 Gb per second simultaneously to many workers on the same office floor
- Several hundreds of thousands of simultaneous connections for massive wireless sensor network
- Spectral efficiency significantly enhanced compared to 4G
- Coverage improved
- Signalling efficiency enhanced
- Latency reduced significantly compared to LTE.
When the industry moved from 3G technology to 4G LTE, the radio-based “air interface” looked different, but the technology used the same kind of wireless spectrum. That meant companies knew how 4G transmissions would operate in the real world. But 5G is completely different.
5G uses very high frequency spectrum known as millimeter waves. They can carry large amounts of data and transfer signals with minimal delays. But signals travel only short distances and have difficulty penetrating walls and going around corners, which makes designing 5G networks tricky.
Qualcomm and its handset and network partners hope the X50 chip will help them better understand how 5G will work. Then chipmaker will be able to release “a more complete version” of the technology in its future processors.
long with the X50 news, Qualcomm said Australian network operator Telstra is rolling out a gigabit-class LTE network by the end of the year, while Netgear is releasing a hotspot that reaches LTE speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second. Phones will be able to run on the higher speeds in 2017 as carriers upgrade their networks.
Qualcomm said it will start sending samples to customers in the second half of 2017, and phones with the modem inside will begin shipping in early 2018.