First 5G Qualcomm modem promises ultra high speeds by 2018

18 Oct 2016

City connected by 5G. Image: Krunja/Shutterstock

Qualcomm has revealed its latest modem called the Snapdragon X50, which will be its first public entry into 5G technology – bringing with it the promise of incredibly high speeds and connectivity.

While we tend to think of 4G connectivity as the technology that lets us download data much faster on our phones, the advent of 5G technology is expected to do so much more.

With potential speeds up to 100 times faster than current 4G capabilities, all of the different technologies behind 5G – from hardware to software – will make not only our phones faster, but will connect devices as part of the internet of things (IoT).

To date, the technology has not really surpassed the experimental stage, despite some mobile networks saying they are working to have trial runs as soon as possible.

Now however, chip manufacturing giant Qualcomm has debuted what it hopes will be the backbone of 5G devices: the Snapdragon X50 5G modem.

Announcing the modem, Qualcomm has said that it will support speeds of up to 5Gbps by utilising very wide bandwidths available in the 28 GHz millimetre wave (mmWave).

This would be considerably faster than the current gold standard of 4G LTE that is only now capable of reaching speeds of 1Gbps, with the average 4G LTE user only achieving speeds of around 300Mbps.

Compatible with gigabit LTE

Instead of using only a handful of 4G antennas, the Snapdragon X50 5G modem will use multi-element antenna arrays designed to work together intelligently, using beamforming and beam tracking technologies, extending mmWave’s mobility and reach to non-line-of-sight scenarios.

But perhaps the most interesting piece of news to come from this announcement is that Qualcomm has said that the modem will be integrated into products starting sometime in 2018, with sampling to begin next year.

The major concern for any early 5G devices would be it soon finding itself out of range of a transmitter, however Qualcomm has said that it will switch seamlessly between 5G and gigabit LTE.

“Gigabit class LTE is now a reality, and again we’re at the forefront,” Qualcomm said. “It’s our firm belief that Gigabit class LTE will be the advanced coverage layer that coexists, and interworks, with 5G deployments.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic