What a difference a year makes. During last year’s MWC Barcelona 2017, 5G NR was not yet a 3GPP standard when Qualcomm drew a line in the sand claiming 5G smartphones will be shipping in 2019. This was a rather bold move as the 5G chipsets and RF FE designs had yet to be tested on any early networks. Fast forward to MWC 2018, not only have the 5G NR specifications been ratified and frozen (Release 15) but other chipset providers besides Qualcomm are demonstrating 5G capabilities or outright sampling silicon. During the year between the 2 Mobile World Congresses, Qualcomm completed a first 5G NR call with participation of Nokia and Verizon using a prototype with a millimeter wave RF FE. Global OEMs and carriers have also announced their support of Qualcomm’s X50 5G NR chipset all but ensuring that the San Diego based wireless chip giant will be the first to power the next generation of wireless technology.
Notable 5G news from MWC 2018:
- (i) In addition to the already-announced Qualcomm X50 and Intel XMM 8060 chipsets, Huawei showed off what they claimed to be the world’s first production 5G chip – albeit, a fixed wireless 5G application for use inside a wireless IPTV service CPE unit currently piloting in China. The Balong 5G01 is a very large piece of silicon (10nm) that is most certainly not mobile-ready (i.e. needs to be tethered to a fixed power source). However, it does demonstrate the momentum behind 5G chipsets ecosystem. It is widely accepted that the first applications of 5G will be for fixed broadband applications. Mobile 5G is a more complex problem, least of which is the millimeter wave RF FE components are all new to the smartphone industry.
- At the Huawei booth at MWC 2018, several new names in the merchant modem business have hitched their wagon to the 5G train. Both Spreadtrum and Mediatek was spotted testing their 5G test bed (FPGA systems) along with Intel demonstrating chipset and UE interoperability of 5G
- Notable others:
(i) Intel announced that they will partner with Spreadtrum to provide Chinese OEMs & ODMs 5G reference designs based on Intel XMM 8060 5G modem working with a Spreadtrum SoC (application processor). This partnership should help Intel accelerate their time to market for their 5G modem designs. Intel had previously exited the mobile SoC business to concentrate on modem chips leaving them without a mobile SoC solution that can power a 5G smartphone. Spreadtrum, who also uses Intel foundries for their chipsets, is a natural partner for Intel as they look to 5G and the Chinese market as new market opportunities.
(ii) Qualcomm announced an “end-to-end” 4G and 5G solution including RF FE designs. They are claiming to have the ability to sell OEM/ODMs on a complete solution from modem to antenna. This capability comes out of their RF360 investments and will help accelerate time to market for both existing 4G designs (especially as the industry moves from CAT 16 to CAT 18 and later to even CAT 20) as well as the new 5G RF FE – both sub 6GHz and millimeter wave.
(iii) Neville Ray of T-Mobile US announce that the carrier will build out their 5G network first on their nationwide 600MHz (band 71) in 30 major US cities for network deployment in early 2019. This will give additional credence to Qualcomm’s claim of 5G smartphone in early 2019.