With the MWC 2019 fanfare behind us, we can now take a step back and look at this year's hot topic at the show – the race to 5G. Qualcomm appears to be well ahead in the field of smartphones. The company had a number of 5G partner devices on display at the Barcelona event and will be running the first series of 5G handsets to be released in the coming months.
You could even claim that the company is already on its way to control the market. Between the dominance of the mobile SoC market, external and emerging integrated 5G modems and new offers in the front-end space of the radio, the company is now a one-stop shop for building a 5G smartphone.
Qualcomm not only focuses on the smartphone market, but is also planning a breakthrough in the 5G automotive, connected laptop and small cell markets.
Despite the early lead, Qualcomm is not the only game in town when it comes to 5G chipsets and hardware. Samsung, Huawei and others already have their own 5G modems ready to power devices and a number of other big names are preparing for their own launch in 2020.
There is still plenty to play for.
Samsung and Huawei have both announced 4G / 5G multi-mode modems – the Exynos Modem 5100 and Balong 5000 respectively. These announcements actually occurred on the Snapdragon X55 modem from Qualcomm, but the goal is the same. All three companies have products that offer 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G capabilities in a single package. Importantly, versions of these modems are likely to appear in the SoC & # 39; s of smartphones in 2020 and offer more energy-efficient integrated solutions for next year's 5G handsets.
However, there are some differences between these modems. The Exynos Modem 5100 is built on a processing node of 10 nm. Samsung claims maximum data rates of 2 Gbps with sub-6 GHz spectrum and 6 Gbps via mmWave spectrum. For comparison: the Snapdragon X55 excludes a download of 7 Gbps and uploads to 3Gbps.
Huawei & # 39; s Balong 5000 is also super fast. At sub-6 GHz, the chip can achieve 4.6 Gbps download and 2.5 Gbps upload. Using mmWave speeds peak at a 6.5 Gbps download and a 3.5 Gbps upload, and merging with LTE data streams extends speeds to a huge 7.5 Gbps download. Although outside the lab we have to accept speeds that are considerably slower than this peak throughput. The chip also complies with FDD and TDD, just like the X55, and supports non-standalone and standalone 5G networks.
Of course, none of these products is likely to be concerned about the share of Qualcomm & # 39; s smartphone modem. Huawei and Samsung will of course use these modems in their own smartphones, but we will have to see if they have much appeal in other market segments.
First it deserves big prizes, but there is no huge rush to be the first to 5G. At least not in the opinion of this observer. Few customers will have regular access to a 5G network in 2019, even in the US, and first-generation products are somewhat compromised when it comes to energy efficiency and performance. By releasing the right product at the right time, while regular consumers can actually use 5G, this can still be a winning formula.
According to Intel & # 39; s General Manager of 5G Strategy, Rob Topol, the company is "waiting for the 5G mainstream." Intel expects that products with a modem will appear in 2020 when consumers use a wider range of 5G services. This has a knock-on effect on the first 5G iPhone, which will almost certainly not be released until next year. But as many as Android fans like to follow Apple because they are slow, even a schedule for the late 2020 period will certainly not miss the 5G boat.
Read more: 5G mmWave: facts and fictions that you should know for sure
Intel will enter the market with a multi-mode chip with 2G to 5G support. The company also supports the full standalone specification together with FDD and TDD. The XMM 8160 5G can achieve download speeds of up to 6 Gbps, making it a very competitive chip. The modem is compatible with phones, tablets, PC, IoT, cars & gateways, although we have to wait for integrated SoC & # 39; s from the modem. That said, Intel also does a lot of work on the server side for 5G. It is not limited to consumer devices to take advantage of the 5G music car.
Another big name that is fairly quiet about its 5G plans is MediaTek. The company announced its M70 5G modem (photo above) at the end of last year and is working on a 5G 7nm chipset that should appear in phones in 2020. The chipset is SA and NSA ready and offers download capacity of up to 4.7 Gbps and 2 , 5 Gbps upload. However, the company has not confirmed to us whether or not the company's next high-end SoC will contain an integrated modem.
A brand you may not know is UniSOC – formerly Spreadtrum Communications, based in China. The company is developing a number of cost-effective SoC & # 39; s for smartphones for emerging markets and could become a major player in the market for cheaper 5G products. We saw a HiSense 5G concept handset on MWC with a UniSOC UDX710 5G modem.
The UDX710 supports both SA and NSA and is a multi-mode chip that supports 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G data connections. The chip must be built on the TSMC 12 nm process, which clearly suggests a cheaper target market than the 10nm and 7nm modems we mentioned above. Most likely this modem will eventually power a selection of 5G smartphones and other devices in China.
You've probably spotted a theme in this article – those who don't plan to be the first are determined to do 5G right. The first wave of Snapdragon X50 sporty 5G handsets is somewhat compromised by their lack of support for multiple modes, higher power consumption from an external modem and lack of support for the standards of 5G Standalone. On the way to 2020 devices, modems support LTE and 5G in a single chip, include FDD and TDD bands for global networks and are also future-proof for the arrival of 5G Standalone.
Whether one of the above companies can immediately assume the current lead of Qualcomm seems unlikely. The growing portfolio of silicon giant network products means that many 5G smartphones will continue to use the company's technology. That said, there is no reason that one of these other 5G modems cannot find a home in the wide range of 5G products that will take the lead in 2020.
Next one: This is what every 5G phone costs you