Qualcomm announced its first 5G cellular modem almost four years before a final standard was scheduled to be published. It could still have to edit the chip to suit the standard, which is targeting everything from cars to smartphones to sensors.
But on Tuesday, the company shared test results of the silicon specimen, which it wants inside smartphones within the next two years. The modem shuttled 1.2 gigabits per second in tests at Qualcomm’s labs in San Diego, California. The final product will provide five gigabits per second, making it around 20 times faster than the latest 4G silicon.
The X50 modem conveyed data using the 28 gigahertz band, which in the future could handle spillover from lower bands traditionally used in cellular networks. But wireless firms are still probing for ways to compensate for millimeter wave’s energy loss over long distances and tendency to bounce off walls, which could hurt Qualcomm’s modem in the real world.
Dimitris Mavrakis, research director for ABI Research, said that the results came “three months before the official 3GPP standard is frozen, however it is possible that Qualcomm’s announcement will skew the market and the standards discussion in its favor. It certainly has the potential to kick start the next round of discussion that will lead to commercial 5G.”
Qualcomm recently lobbied to trim six months from the wireless industry’s 2020 timetable. In August, Qualcomm principal engineer Wanshi Chen replaced another Qualcomm employee Dino Flore as chairman of the 3GPP radio access network group, which is scrambling to complete a draft of the standard before the end of the year.
In a separate announcement, Qualcomm also previewed a reference manual so that companies can integrate the X50 modem into smartphones and other gadgets. That could gird Qualcomm against competitors like Intel, which has also built a 5G prototype, and Mediatek, which has assigned more than a hundred engineers exclusively to 5G.
The new modem could also give Qualcomm a facelift after protracted legal battles over patent licensing fees with Apple, which has signaled that it may create a custom modem for its smartphones. In May, Apple poached Esin Terzioglu, who for the last nine years was in charge of Qualcomm’s wireless modems at the heart of the recent lawsuits.