5G Networks are one step closer to becoming a reality for wireless broadband users worldwide. With the announcement if the X50 5G modem, Qualcomm draws a line in the sand and prepares the whole wireless industry to go to the next level.
Qualcomm says that the X50 can reach a top speed of 5Gbps, which is already 5X faster than the upcoming “Gigabit-class” LTE modems that can themselves reach ~900Mbps under the best conditions. X50 does so by massively using MIMO (Multiple-Input Multiple-Output) in the 28GHz frequency band, a part of the millimeter Wave (mmWave) spectrum.
mmWave front-end radio hardware tends to have a lot of antennas, and that is enabling a very aggressive MIMO utilization. In principle, MIMO is the parallelization of radio communications via multiple antennas, each handling one data transfer at a time. The goal is to increase the number of simultaneous data transfers to obtain a higher aggregate data rate.
Because the X50 Modem only deals with mmWave bands, it should be paired with an LTE modem (such as the Qualcomm X16) to function in a real-world environment where 4G LTE is used as a network foundation because it has much wider coverage today. Going forward, it should be noted that 5G will continue to rely on LTE (and other legacy networks) as a common denominator. The new bands and techniques related to 5G will act as accelerators whenever available.
As usual, deployment of this kind of technology will start relatively slow; then the pace will pick up quickly if LTE’s deployment can serve as a loose template. The radio frequency allocation in mmWave bands seems to be as chaotic (around the world) as the LTE bands allocation was (there are more than 40 LTE bands worldwide), but Qualcomm points out that LTE bands fragmentation was successfully solved with technologies like RF360, and so will any other band fragmentation.
In fact, Qualcomm probably welcomes the challenge because while this puts tremendous pressure on all 5G players, Qualcomm is well positioned to benefit from the difficulty of implementing 5G because the barrier of entry is very high, which could keep competitor busy, if not at bay.
5G rests on the shoulders of the complete legacy wireless communication stack, so all 5G actors effectively have to support everything that came before 5G, and do it well.
mmWave bands can lead to incredible top speeds, but they are also extremely sensitive to the environment. Signals can be blocked by things as thin as a sheet of paper. To solve these challenges, the 5G protocol has been designed to handle and aggregate multiple connections (of different types). 5G devices will be connected to multiple networks simultaneously.
Sometimes, the modem will bounce signals on hard surfaces (walls…) to reach the base station, and use adaptive beam forming to most efficiently use the radio’s power to transmit the data.