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article imageQualcomm unveils the first 5G modem, coming to phones in 2018

By James Walker     Oct 18, 2016 in Technology
Smartphone chip manufacturer Qualcomm has announced the world's first 5G mobile modem. It offers transfer speeds far in excess of the current LTE standard, over 10 times faster than the best modems inside today's phones. Qualcomm aims for a 2018 launch.
Qualcomm announced the X50 5G modem today alongside a Gigabit 4G model and a trio of new processors. 5G infrastructure is currently being developed to enable the next-generation of mobile data technology. Only a handful of cities worldwide currently have access to 5G networks. Qualcomm wants to be there right from the start though, becoming the de facto choice for 5G modems as it has with 4G chips.
The company said it expects 5G to usher in a "new generation" of cellular services. You'll be able to access mobile data on your phone that, in many cases, will be hundreds or even thousands of times faster than your home broadband. The development of the X50 brings 5G devices a step closer to reality and demonstrates the speed improvements being touted by carriers will be viable in the real-world.
"With this announcement, 5G becomes more than just an ambitious collection of ideas about what the future of cellular systems should look like and what it will make possible," said Qualcomm. "Qualcomm Technologies has led the 5G conversation, and now we’re leading the way with the realization of actual 5G products."
The Snapdragon X50 5G offers "unprecedented" download speeds of up to 5Gbps. For comparison, Qualcomm's most advanced commercialised 4G modem offers 450Mbps transfers. To achieve the 11x performance boost, Qualcomm has utilised very wide bandwidths in the 28GHz millimetre wave spectrum to increase the amount of data transferred at once.
Millimetre waves have significant limitations though. They don't operate well if there is no line-of-sight connection to a cell tower, causing loss of service on mobile devices. To overcome this, Qualcomm has designed the X50 around multi-element antenna arrays. A series of antennas intelligently work together to bounce the energy of the millimetre wave off obstacles, enabling the data to reach the 5G cell that the phone is connecting with.
If the device is completely out of the cell tower's range, the X50 will fall back to an accompanying 4G modem. Qualcomm has engineered a "seamless" transition to 4G, using a new Gigabit LTE modem it announced today. The company introduced the Snapdragon X16, the world's first commercial Gigabit LTE device, realising its goal of launching a commercial Gigabit LTE device and network by the end of 2016.
Today, you can access Gigabit-speed (1Gbps) transfer speeds on Telstra's network using the NETGEAR Mobile Router MR1100 with the Snapdragon X16 LTE modem. In the future, 4G will be an accessory to 5G though, letting devices gracefully convert to 1Gbps speeds when 5Gbps 5G is unreachable. The X50 can handle simultaneous connections to 4G and 5G networks, enabling seamless transitions without any loss of connectivity.
Qualcomm said it is "pleased" to be able to introduce the 5G era with the announcement of the Snapdragon 850. It is now working with networks and device manufacturers to make 5G networks and smartphones a reality. It expects the first products to launch during the first half of 2018.
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