The first 5G mmWave connectivity included in most 2019 5G handsets (in the US) will use Qualcomm’s X50 5G modem, introduced in 2016. However, the San Diego based telecom company launched the new X55 5G modem at MWC 2019, a version that should power a majority of high-end Android smartphones in 2020.
First, the Qualcomm X55 modem also integrates a 4G LTE modem (and everything below, like 3G, 2G), unlike today’s X50 which leaves the handling of legacy networks to the internal modem of the Snapdragon 855 processor ( SoC ).
Merging the two functions (LTE+mmWave) into one modem will facilitate the electronics design, reduce the cost, footprint and even power consumption. Contributing to these factors is the production of the X55 modem on a 7nm semiconductor process, from the 10nm used today to make X50.
The X55 modem brings communications improvements such as supporting more bands both in sub-6GHz and mmWave frequencies. This will let phone manufacturers release products in more countries, with more carriers and at higher speeds (7 Gbps vs. 5 Gbps).
In the meantime, the Qualcomm X50 modem will be the modem of choice for 2019 and early adopters will enjoy the extra speed on a relatively empty 5G network before the masses flood in a year later. There are about ~30 phone designs with X50 being worked on today.
To accompany the announcement of this new modem, Qualcomm has also shown its next-generation antenna, the Qualcomm QTM525. While this is typically not the sexiest smartphone topic, the new antenna is what allows thin 5G phones that perform optimally. In many ways the antenna can be a limiting factor for the modem, just remember the iPhone 4 antenna gate.
The Qualcomm X55 modem will also find its ways into computers and vehicles. Here’s the official teaser trailer: