Qualcomm Targets Upcoming 5G Chip Platform at Smartphones in 2019

The chip maker is letting OEMs sample the platform, which will pair a 7nm SoC with its X50 modem to drive the development of high-end 5G mobile devices.

Qualcomm Troubles

Qualcomm has begun sampling its upcoming mobile platform that will pair with the company’s Snapdragon X50 modem to give makers of smartphones and other mobile devices a connectivity foundation as they build 5G-capable offerings.

The platform, which will include a system-on-a-chip (SoC) built through a 7-nanometer manufacturing process, is the latest move by the world’s top mobile chip maker in its efforts to gain an edge in a highly competitive market that includes Intel and others that based their products on the Arm architecture.

It also will come as service providers such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile continue to build out their 5G networks and as device makers start introducing 5G capable smartphones in 2019. Qualcomm officials indicate that more details about the platform will come out in the fourth quarter. It is being sampled with multiple OEMs that are developing next-generation consumer devices, they said.

Momentum behind 5G continues to grow. It promises to bring significant gains in both speed—as much as 10 to 100 times that of 4G networks—and greatly expanded network capacity, which will be needed to handle the new devices and technologies coming in the next decade.

That includes the tens of billions of intelligent connected devices that are expected by 2020. With the continued expansion of the internet of things (IoT), that number will only grow. In addition, 5G will help handle the changing nature of mobile traffic, which is becoming more video-centric.

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, big data analytics along with augmented and virtual reality as well as autonomous vehicles will also require the speed and capacity that 5G will bring.

AT&T, Verizon and other service providers already are testing 5G networks in various cities around the world and plan to expand services toward the end of this year and through 2019. Device makers also are planning to bring premium smartphones onto the market next year.

The ramp up of 5G-capable devices will start slow, but will gain momentum in the coming years. Gartner analysts expect that 5G phones will start appearing in 2019 as 5G networks roll out in such countries as the United States and South Korea. Gartner predicts that by 2021, 9 percent of smartphones sold will support 5G.

Strategic Analytics forecasts that by 2021, 5 percent of all handsets sold will be 5G devices, but that as prices fall and the number of 5G networks expands, 5G handset sales will reach into the hundreds of millions by 2023.

“5G smartphone sales will begin in China, Japan, South Korea and the USA from 2019,” Ville-Petteri Ukonaha, senior analyst with Strategic Analysts, said in a statement. “But volumes in 2019 will be in just the millions, and only barely in the tens of millions in 2020.”

Qualcomm continues to invest in its 5G efforts. During a conference call in July, CEO Steve Mollenkopf told journalists and analyst that the company over the past two years has grown its R&D budget around 5G. During the same call, Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon said the momentum behind 5G is strong.

“We're very happy with what we've seen in 5G right now,” Amon said, according to a transcript on Seeking Alpha. “5G is accelerating. I think we said there are a large number of operators, and I can say that all of our Snapdragon 800 OEMs today are planning to launch a 5G device smartphone in 2019. I think that positions us well. It's early ramp of a technology, but while we have seen revenue generations, I think if we are in a good leadership position as the market moves, it could be a significant event in the later part of 2019 and 2020.”

In February, Qualcomm launched the Snapdragon 5G Module solutions, which with their modular designs are aimed at helping device makers more quickly commercialize 5G in their products. The solutions put more than 1,000 5G components into a few modules. In July, the company announced its new QTM502 mmWave 5G antenna modules for smartphones. The company is putting together its X50 5G modem with up to four antenna modules in each smartphone.

Qualcomm’s 5G innovations also were a key driver in Broadcom’s months-long hostile $117 billion takeover bid for Qualcomm over the winter. Development of 5G technology also was the primary focus of U.S. regulators and lawmakers as they reviewed Broadcom’s bid, which Qualcomm officials fiercely opposed.

Eventually, the Trump administration spiked the proposed deal through a presidential order, saying it was not in the country’s best interest. The concern was that if Broadcom—which was based in Singapore, but is working to move its headquarters to Silicon Valley—was to acquire Qualcomm, it would give China an edge over the United States in the 5G race.