Fourth-generation Qualcomm X65 Modem-RF System features mmWave/sub-6 GHz aggregation, supports 3.5 Gbps uplink speed
Editor’s note: Qualcomm provided travel, lodging and other accommodations associated with the Snapdragon Tech Summit.
KONA, HAWAII–Qualcomm was an early proponent of millimeter wave (mmWave), doing the engineering work that has brought high-band 5G support to cellular devices. CEO Cristiano Amon remains bullish on mmWave adoption based on comments at the Snapdragon Tech Summit this week. And, in his opening keynote, Amon stressed the importance of multi-Gbps uplink speeds which were demonstrated in a live mmWave-based 8K, HDR video call from Hawaii to Verizon CTO Kyle Malady at the carrier’s headquarters in New Jersey.
Amon called the newly unveiled Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, which features a fourth-generation X65 Modem-RF System, “the only solution that is supporting dual connectivity combining mmWave and sub-6 [GHz] bands…so you have the aggregation of capacity of both sub-6 [GHz] and mmWave. As we think about redefining user experiences for the 5G era, upload speeds are just as important.”
With that, Amon called up Malady who said that rather than a full-blown video studio set-up, “Literally, I have a three-legged tripod with a Snapdragon…X65 device and it’s streaming to you in 8K. It is such an achievement, the technology that you guys are bringing to the table for our customers. It’s great work you’re doing.”
“This is how you get the full potential of 5G,” Amon said. “It takes time to be built but it’s going to enable next generation experiences.” In a separate Q&A session, Amon reiterated that mmWave coverage will be deployed, it’ll just take time. “I expect that we’re going to have more scale of mmWave globally starting next year.”
Verizon is also a notable proponent of mmWave 5G which it has branded as “Ultra Wideband.” The company went to market in late 2018 with a pre-5G standard millimeter wave fixed wireless access home broadband service and has been steadily building out mobile sites in parts of key markets around the country.
Others are not as bullish on the impact mmWave 5G will have. PCMag’s Lead Mobile Analyst Sascha Segan told RCR Wireless News: “Verizon has poured billions of dollars and years of effort into the world’s largest millimeter wave experiment so far, with very little to show for it in terms of coverage area and traffic handled. Qualcomm is right that mmWave has the superior bandwidth for the applications which would make 5G truly different than 4G. But unless some sort of build out miracle happens, it’s feeling a lot like LAA to me – a nice supplementary technology that just doesn’t work at scale.”
Amon and Segan both use the word scale but perhaps it’s worth considering what the right scale is for operator investment in mmWave 5G. Bell Labs Consulting recently dug into the business case with report authors Stephen Rose and Claudio Saes asking and answering, “which scenarios generate such demand and why would customers pay more for them? The good news is there are many of these scenarios: airports, railway stations, stadiums, production facilities, distribution centers—anywhere with massive consumption and movement of data and with the need to operate and monitor in real-time.”
What does that mean for operators considering if and how to deploy mmWave? According to the Bell Labs Consulting analysis, there’s an average of a four-year payback period for deployment in the types of locations delineated above with an internal rate of return between 20% and 30% after the fourth year. Further, cost per gigabyte can be reduced by 75% as compared to sub-6 GHz. On balancing the scale, the authors write that mmWave 5G “enables telecom operators to strategically select and scale the availability of 5G services at appropriate locations to serve high-capacity requirements cost-effectively.”
In a piece contributed to this publication, Tantra Analyst Principal Prakash Sangam tells the skeptics that, when it comes to mmWave, “It’s not coverage, but capacity!” Referencing the Bell Labs Consulting report, he wrote, “What is interesting is most of the revenues to realize the impressive RoI [were] coming from consumers moving to higher-tier data plans, enabled by 5G, not relying on fancy applications such as AR/VR, mission critical services, etc…”
Last month the GSMA announced a mmWave 5G “global accelerator initiative” with members, including China Unicom, NTT DOCOMO, Telstra, TIM, Verizon, Ericsson and Qualcomm. The goal is to share learnings and highlight how mmWave is central to “unlocking the full potential of 5G.” The consortium estimated that a combined mmWave and mid-band 5G network can reduce TCO by 35% as compared to a network only using sub-6 GHz spectrum.
According to GSMA CTO Alex Sinclair, “This GSMA accelerator initiative will demonstrate what harnessing 5G mmWave can achieve and inspire others as to its many benefits.”
While differing opinions are to be expected, Qualcomm is committed. As Amon put it, “How do we bring that mmWave to every single tier of Snapdragon, how do we make the technology more cost effective, how can we reduce the number of antennas in the device and still have the same performance? That’s our mission.”
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