Qualcomm Announces 1st 5G Modem. Now What?

Last week at its 4G conference in Hong Kong, Qualcomm announced the first fifth generation cellular modem, the Snapdragon X50. Accompanying the modem are the SDR051 RF transceivers and PMX50 power management chip. Qualcomm was quick to point out that it was working with Verizon and others to prove in the device, since there is currently no deployed 5G network over which it can operate. Qualcomm indicated that the device should be available in cellphones in 2018, so you can keep your credit card in your pocket for now.

The X50 is designed to initially work only in the 28GHz millimeter-wave spectrum (supporting the Verizon 5GTF and KT 5G-SIG specifications), it’s capable of 8x100MHz carrier aggregation, giving it access to 800MHz of spectrum versus 80MHz (4x20MHz) for Qualcomm’s X16 LTE modem. All this extra bandwidth enables up to 5Gbps on the downlink, opening new applications that were not practical at lower speeds. PCMag.com has a compelling narrative on the X50 here.

Here’s Qualcomm’s infographic of the X50.

Apple’s iPhone 7 Available with Qualcomm or Intel Modems. Should I worry?

It’s well known by now that iPhone7s come in two versions. In the U.S., Intel’s LTE modem is employed in units sold through AT&T and T-Mobile, while the Qualcomm LTE modem is sold through Verizon, Sprint and other carriers requiring CDMA in addition to LTE, etc. There are on-line articles indicating that the Qualcomm modem has superior over-the-air performance. Cellular Insights bench testing indicates that Qualcomm modems outran Intel modems by 30% in overall performance, and 75% when the signal was as its weakest. Moreover, the Qualcomm-based iPhone7s also support TD-SCDMA, popular in China. Here are CI’s iPhone 7 findings. If you want a true “World iPhone 7” your best bet is to purchase (directly from Apple) an unlocked unit with the Qualcomm modem (Look for Models A1660 or A1661 on the back of the iPhone 7). I’m sure that real-world over-the-air experiences comparing the two iPhone7 versions will soon be appearing in cyberspace, but the average iPhone7 customer probably won’t be able to tell the difference.

With Qualcomm’s introduction of the 1st 5G Modem (above), it should be clear that the company’s more extensive experience in cellular technology is paying off in superior 4G performance. However, now that it has demonstrated market viability, Intel is committed to doing better when the iPhone8 comes around, and likely they will be shopping their new LTE thin modem (sans application processor) to other cellphone companies.

MediaTek Breaks into the U.S. Cellphone Market

Last week, MediaTek announced the launch of its first-ever MediaTek-powered CDMA/LTE smartphone, the LG Stylo 2V. The LG device employs MediaTek’s Helio P10, a high-performance 4G octa-core processor clocked at 1.8 GHz and running the Android Marshmallow OS. MediaTek has been a significant player in the Asia cellphone market, starting out by initially dominating China’s “white-box” cellphone market. With that as a high-volume base, the company has continually added increased functionality to its application processors and expanded into the LTE market through its unique Coresonic DSP core.

MediaTek was an early licensee of VIA Telecom’s CDMA modem technology, and through the LG Stylo 2V implementation has proved it to be a viable solution. VIA Telecom’s CDMA assets have since been purchased by Intel Corp., but Intel has yet to field an LTE/CDMA modem (see iPhone 7 comments above). Note also that the VIA Telecom CDMA baseband is built around licensed CEVA DSP technology. And note that Intel’s increasing LTE functionality employs additional CEVA technology beyond the original Infineon 2G/3G modem implementations.

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss
President & Principal Analyst
Forward Concepts
wis@fwdconcepts.com

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