Qualcomm has just announced its latest Gigabit-class LTE modem called Snapdragon X20. It is a discrete modem (not integrated into a SoC processor) that can reach a theoretical speed of 1.2 Gbps (download), thus firmly bridging the gap between LTE and 5G. It does so thanks to an unprecedented use of carrier aggregation and introduces features like dual-SIM VoLTE (voice over LTE) that should be increase voice quality for regions like Asia or MEA where dual-SIM is popular.

The Snapdragon X20 LTE Modem is Qualcomm first device to use LTE CAT 18 (1.2Gbps DL), and it also happens to be the world’s first CAT 18 modem. The upload remains at CAT 13 (150 Mbps), just like the X9, X12 and X16 modems. The 1.2 Gbps peak download speed is possible because Qualcomm uses carrier aggregation with five 20Mhz channels instead of four with the X16 Modem (1 Gbps, CAT 16). “Carrier aggregation” means combining multiple data streams all operating in the same band (20 Mhz here) to increase data throughput.  The Qualcomm Snapdragon X20 modem is a stand-alone chip which is built using a 10nm FinFET (3D transistors) semiconductor manufacturing process, possibly from Samsung semiconductors. It is the second-generation to use this manufacturing process, so it benefits from Qualcomm’s experience in this area.

The addition of VoLTE (voice over LTE) adds support for HD voice over the SIM #2. That should make voice sound quality much better, and people who ended up using SIM #2 a lot will benefit greatly from this. Although not so common in western countries, dual-SIM is a “must-have” feature in many Asian countries where SIM cards can be purchased as easily as candy in grocery stores.

The Qualcomm X20 modem further expands the number of wireless providers capable of deploying Gigabit LTE. By being compatible with thousands of possible network configurations, the X20 enables an estimated 90% of operators worldwide to use Gb LTE on their networks.

Finally, note that while peak speed is very important, in reality, this means that although real speed may not always be so high, the average speed on the network will be much improved. A side effect is that devices transmit for a shorter amount of time, which makes the network more available, to more devices — thus benefiting all users.

If this was only peak download speeds, think about how your 4GB monthly data plan could be exhausted in about ~3 seconds at 1.2Gbps…

Disclaimer: we were invited to a one-day event in San Diego where Qualcomm presented its new product lineup (see photos), the company paid for our travel expenses.

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