Today at its 5G Summit in San Diego California, Qualcomm announced it has achieved a significant milestone in the evolution of 5G wireless network connectivity, and the future of wireless broadband services everywhere. Powered by the company’s new Snapdragon X70 5G modem-RF system that was recently announced at Mobile World Congress in February, Qualcomm demonstrated the world’s first 5G Standalone mmWave (Millimeter Wave) connection, with blistering 10Gbps (Gigabit per second) peak download speeds. However, this announcement was significant in many other ways, beyond just the gobs of glorious wireless network bandwidth and 8.3 Gbps (gigabit per second) speeds.
Standalone mmWave And Why It’s A Game-Changer
Standalone mmWave 5G is a fairly straight-forward technology in terms of its namesake, but achieving this feat was anything but trivial. 5G mmWave operates on much higher cellular network frequency bands, at the 24GHz spectrum and above. Though it doesn’t have the same long reach as lower spectrum sub-6GHz cellular technology and requires a denser distribution of cellular base stations and specialized antenna tuning, due to penetration and blocking loss from buildings, foliage and other potential obstructions, it does offer massive multi-gigabit bandwidth, lower latency and capacity advantages over sub-6 GHz 5G technology.
In terms of Qualcomm’s Standalone mmWave achievement today, however, the market impact could even be more significant. 5G mmWave Standalone deployments will co-exist with traditional Non-Standalone (NSA) mmWave and sub-6 5G networks for some time, but Standalone 5G mmWave technology will allow carriers to deploy high bandwidth 5G mmWave networks, and devices that utilize, them in standalone mode, without requiring a sub-6GHz spectrum anchor. In short, this gives wireless carriers and operators much more flexibility to not only deploy 5G mmWave services to more areas, but also wireless fiber broadband access.
And in my view, wireless fiber broadband access is a disruptive game-changer in many ways. In a nutshell, wireless fiber broadband makes use of existing high speed gigabit fiber networks, like Verizon Fios for example, for backhaul network communication to the central office (CO), while 5G Standalone mmWave networks will provide the critical “last mile” or hop to a residential or commercial broadband customer. The last mile term is a euphemism of broadband network days gone by, because it used to be that getting fiber broadband connectivity to the home was a major problem that needed to be solved. These days, fiber broadband operators struggle to achieve that quarter or even tenth of a mile fiber reach to a customer, but that’s where 5G Standalone mmWave comes to the rescue. 5G Standalone mmWave base stations, and customer premise 5G wireless access points, will offer multi-gigabit wireless (Wi-Fi and cellular) connections, for that critical last hop that might otherwise never have been made.
The roll-out is going to take some time, but as wireless fiber broadband operators begin to deploy services in rural and suburban underserved areas, or in areas where there is little competition for incumbent operators, a new competitive landscape will emerge with new business models, use cases and opportunities. “Snapdragon X70 gives operators the ability to deliver extreme 5G capacity, multi-Gigabit data speeds, and new use cases across devices from smartphones to laptops, fixed wireless access equipment, industrial machines, and more,” said Durga Malladi, SVP and General Manager, Cellular Modems and Infrastructure, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.
New Smart Transmit 3.0 And 5G Carrier Aggregation Features
Another feature of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X70 Modem-RF system is something called Smart Transmit 3.0. The technology utilizes a modem to antenna awareness system that optimizes uplink speeds when a client device needs it, but also conserve energy and maintain compliance with RF power transmit limits, as needed. So, when you need that quick burst of speed for a video or image upload, it’s available, but when it’s not required, the radio transmission is optimized dynamically so that energy can be conserved, which also helps maintain consistent, reliable network performance. Finally, Qualcomm is also now incorporating Smart Transmit dynamic optimization for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radio connectivity as well, in conjunction with companion Qualcomm FastConnect chipset technologies.
Some additional announcements at the Qualcomm 5G Summit today were further discussion of the AI-enhanced adaptive antenna tuning and channel-state feedback optimization, as well as AI-based mmWave beam forming and network selection, for enhanced 5G performance of its new Snapdragon X70 modem-RF system. The company also showcased 5G sub-6GHz carrier aggregation across three TDD (Time Division Duplex operator links — used in dense 5G deployments) channels, delivering up to 6Gbps peak download speeds. Sub-6 carrier aggregation is going to be critical in areas where cellular operators want to service customers with multi-gigabit speeds, even though they are far from the cellular base station, such as in rural or extended suburban areas.
All told, it appears Qualcomm is continuing its tradition of leading 5G rollout innovation with its new Snapdragon X70 5G Modem-RF system, and the various demos on display at its 5G Summit in sunny San Diego. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X70 is currently sampling to customers, with commercial mobile devices based on Snapdragon X70 expected to arrive by late 2022. However, 5G network services like wireless fiber broadband access will likely take years of rollout time, though the wheels are definitively in motion.