Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip to power first wave of 5G smartphones

5 Dec 2018

The new Snapdragon 855 chip. Image: Qualcomm

Actual working devices capable of handling 5G are the real hurdle to overcome for operators.

Chip giant Qualcomm has revealed a new generation of chips that will power 5G smartphones in the coming year.

Qualcomm unveiled the Snapdragon 855 chip, a modem for phones to connect to 5G wireless data networks with speeds that are up to 100 times faster than current 4G networks. The first phones to get the new chipsets will be new Samsung smartphones that will be launched in the US by Verizon in the first half of 2019.

The Snapdragon 855 will come with a new multicore AI engine, enhanced vision for night photography and video capture, and next-generation gaming, including AR and streamed games. Qualcomm also revealed a new 3D Sonic Sensor, which promises an enhanced ultrasonic fingerprint recognition solution that sits beneath the display screen. This is similar to a feature that is already standard on Chinese manufacturer Huawei’s new Mate 20 Pro.

In a keynote at the Snapdragon Tech Summit in Hawaii, Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon described how 5G will be a commercial reality starting in early 2019 with mobile device launches and network roll-outs across North America, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia and China.

At the event, Qualcomm, AT&T and Verizon turned on live millimetre-wave 5G networks and showcased a number of 5G consumer experiences powered by the Snapdragon X50 5G modem and radio frequency (RF) subsystem.

“Today marks a massive and exciting step forward, underscoring how Qualcomm Technologies and ecosystem leaders are driving 5G commercialisation, a journey that went from R&D, accelerated standardisation and trials, the launch of innovative products and technologies, to the imminent launch of 5G networks and smartphones across the globe, starting in early 2019,” said Amon.

BT executive adviser for 5G, Fotis Karonis, said that its 5G network will roll out next year in the UK, with working devices powered by the new chipsets.

“We are focused on bringing the benefits of 5G NR [new radio] networks for our business and consumer customers in the UK. In conjunction with Qualcomm Technologies, we have tested many of the underlying technologies that will be used to deliver 5G,” said Karonis. “We are eagerly anticipating 5G mobile devices featuring the new Snapdragon 855, with Snapdragon X50 arriving here along with the roll-out of our 5G network in 2019.”

Smart devices will be linchpin in race to 5G

While network operators around the world have already begun testing 5G networks, including Vodafone in Ireland, the actual devices capable of carrying 5G are scarce and the first smartphones capable of the new generation will not be available until the second quarter of 2019, most likely after reveals at Mobile World Congress in February.

During a 5G reveal in Dublin in recent weeks, an Ericsson executive showed off one of just 10 actual 5G devices available in the world today, a router that can achieve speeds of 2Gbps and that can act as a fixed Ethernet point for any number of 4G devices. In a demo in February, speeds of 15Gbps were proven by pre-standardised 5G mobile technology by Vodafone and Ericsson.

At the Vodafone event in Dublin recently, Ericsson’s Hans Hammer said the next generation of routers for 5G will start appearing in the market in Q1 next year, with the first handsets likely to appear in Q2.

“Globally, if you look at the operators that are rolling out 5G early, they may be use cases like fixed wireless access and mobile broadband. Initially, it will be about enhancing mobile broadband, adding more capacity and delivering more capacity in a cost-effective manner.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years