Qualcomm claims lead in race for 5G commercial launch

Qualcomm insists it will enable 5GNR device availability for 2019 launches as it makes three 5G announcements at its Hong Kong customer event.

4G5G Summit QualcommIf there is a hold-up in achieving the accelerated 2019 target for commercial 5G services, it won’t be because we aren’t ready, was Qualcomm’s gist on day one of its 4G5G Summit being held in Hong Kong.

Qualcomm is holding a gathering for partners and operators in Hong Kong. With 2,400 attendees and something like nine C-level operator speakers on the first day, it’s clearly a reasonably big deal for the big Q. So to mark the occasion the chip vendor pushed out three pieces of news related to the second digit in that title.

We have gone from announcement to functional silicon in record time and have now announced the very first 5G data call. So by 2019 we can make standards-compliant 5GNR a reality in early 2019

First, it announced progress in development of its 5GNR X50 chipset. Announced a year or so ago, this was on display as a wall-mounted exhibit at MWC earlier this year. By now it was being held between thumb and forefinger of Cristiano Amon, executive vice president, Qualcomm Technologies, and President, QCT. Not only that but Amon announced that Qualcomm had demonstrated the first pre-standards 5GNR data call using this modem, building a reference mobile platform for 5GNR including antenna support for 28GHz. Amon displayed the reference platform – the size and look of a smartphone – to demonstrate that Qualcomm has something device OEMs and operators can consider testing. In other words, it is now able to contain its support for mmWave (28GHz) and higher order MIMO with beamforming and tracking within a reference platform that would sit in a smartphone form factor.

Speaking to a crowd that included a lot of operators, many of whom have until this point indicated that 5GNR networks are likely to be available ahead of 5G devices, Amon said the reference platform would confront “sceptics” who have claimed that the device makers would struggle to meet an early target of 2019 for commercial 5G launches. 5GNR specfications are of course not yet frozen,  so developers and equipment makers are producing pre-standards solutions that are expected to be compatible with the final specs. 

“We have gone from announcement to functional silicon in record time and have now announced the very first 5G data call. So by 2019 we can make standards-compliant 5GNR a reality in early 2019,” he said.

In its “first 5G data call” the modem sat alongside a RF front end (RFFE) that accompanies an antenna module that provides support for 28GHz connectivity. (The operation of the X50 in support of mmWave connectivity has required a change of structure inside the device reference design itself. Speaking at a later briefing Nitin Dhiman, Senior Manager Technical Marketing, said that Qualcomm has found the need to move the RFFE to the edge of the device so its sits right next to the antenna module, rather than closed to the modem.)

Qualcomm’s intent is clearly to show its leadership in an area where Intel has also been publicising a trial 5G mobile platform. Intel used its platform in interoperability demonstrations with 5GTF -compatible equipment developed by Nokia and Ericsson at MWC 2017. Then in September this year it announced the platform would be used in live tests of pre-standard 5GNR specifications.

From 5GTF FWA to 5GNR

Qualcomm’s second announcement also addressed that migration path from FWA 5GTF specs to standards-compliant 5GNR. The company said it would be moving into tests with Verizon and OEM Novatel, with a view to demonstrate 5GNR compatibility and to give Verizon a forward migration path from its non-3GPP FWA activities into 3GPP mobile 5GNR.

The companies will carry out over-the-air trials, starting in 2018, using 5GNR mmWave mobile test platforms from Qualcomm Technologies operating at 28 GHz and 39 GHz. In addition, the trials will employ advanced 5G NR Multiple-Input Multiple-Output antenna technology with adaptive beamforming and beam tracking. The announcement is of note because others in the industry, notably rival US operator AT&T, had questioned whether Verizon was doing the right thing by prioritising its own specs 5GTF specs for 5G FWA deployments. Would it, some had asked, place that development into a cul-de-sac?

“Since the inception of the 5G Technology Forum, Verizon has been working closely with Qualcomm Technologies and other technology leaders to accelerate a global 5G specification to help usher in the next generation of wireless innovation for customers,” said Ed Chan, senior vice president, Verizon Technology Strategy & Planning. “Verizon’s investment in mmWave spectrum has given us the flexibility to pursue a first-of its kind fixed wireless broadband customer trial, which has been invaluable in advancing our expertise in the deployment of mmWave technology. With the collaboration we’re announcing today, we are taking the next logical step towards extending our leadership position in the advancement of 5G.

Low band on the run, etc.

In a third announcement the company was introduced support for Band 71 – the 600MHz band currently available in the States and targeted by T-Mobile as an LTE and then 5G coverage band. Dhiman said that the band, and other sub-1GHz bands near it, would be important for providing widespread coverage especially for low power IoT devices. The design includes an “aperture tuner” so that OEMs can re-use their existing antenna designs.