Central to the Trump administration’s decision earlier this year to spike Broadcom’s attempted $117 billion hostile takeover of Qualcomm was the desire of U.S. officials and company executives to ensure that the chipmaker’s efforts in 5G technologies remained independent and within U.S. borders. The next-generation cellular connectivity technology promises to bring significantly greater speed and capacity than today’s 4G networks and to play a central role in such emerging areas as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles and edge computing.
At its Snapdragon Technology Summit this week, Qualcomm officials unveiled the 7-nanometer Snapdragon 855, a mobile platform for smartphones that they said will be able to support the expected rollouts of 5G-capable mobile devices, services and networks next year. Bolstering the announcement at the event was the presence of officials with Verizon and AT&T, both of whom said their companies were on pace with their 5G networking plans.
“As operators launch 5G networks in early 2019, consumers will for the first time be able to take advantage of transformative 5G consumer experiences on mobile devices with Snapdragon 855,” Alex Katouzian, senior vice president and general manager of mobile at Qualcomm, said in a statement.
Also at the summit, Qualcomm officials introduced the Snapdragon 8cx, a 7nm platform for thin-and-light PC designs that extends the company’s reach in an area long dominated by rival Intel. They also said the X24 LTE modem in the 8cx platform—which also is found in the 855 5G platform—will give OEMs and users a path to 5G connectivity in their mobile PCs.
Qualcomm is a leader in 5G technology, which is expected to drive improvements over 4G networks in areas like data capacity and to enable 10 to 100 times faster network speeds with greatly reduced latency. It also will support many more connected devices, a crucial factor when considering the rapid proliferation of mobile and connected devices that make up the IoT, the ongoing migration to the cloud, and the push to put more compute processing and data analytics capabilities at the network edge, closer to the systems generating the massive amounts of data.
The ramp to 5G-capable devices will slowly gain momentum as service providers roll out their 5G networks in places like the United States and South Korea. Gartner analysts are predicting that by 2021, 9 percent of smartphones will support 5G.
"Overall, 5G will be a significant driver of video and streaming services, as it will bring faster uplinks and support new AI applications,” Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner, said in a statement.
5G a Top Priority
In a conference call announcing Qualcomm’s latest quarterly financial numbers, CEO Steve Mollenkopf said the transition to 5G is the company’s top priority entering 2019.
“When the world is introduced to 5G early next year, we believe we will be the technology partner in nearly all the commercial launches around the world,” Mollenkopf said, according to a transcript in Seeking Alpha. “This position is no small accomplishment. Transitions in wireless like 3G, 4G, and 5G are unforgiving to companies and competitors that are late to these transitions, especially in the initial ramp years. Our focus and investment priorities over the last couple of years have enabled us to successfully establish a strong technology position and lead the 5G industry transition, which will represent a significant opportunity for Qualcomm to expand revenue and earnings as we exit fiscal 2019.”
The CEO said he expects the first mobile 5G networks to launch in the second quarter of 2019 in North America and Asia and that Qualcomm is working with more than 18 device makers who will roll out 5G handsets next year using the chipmaker’s 50X 5G modems.
Both AT&T and Verizon announced this week that they will be launching Samsung 5G smartphones powered by Qualcomm’s new mobile platform in the first half of 2019. Qualcomm began sampling the Snapdragon 855 with device makers during the summer.
With the 855 platform, Qualcomm is including the X50 5G modem as well as the X24 LTE modem. The X50 delivers support for 5G—both the Sub-6 GHz and mmWave frequency bands—and multi-gigabit speeds. In the mmWave bands, performance will jump as much as 20 times compared with current commercial offerings, officials said. The platform is also ready for faster WiFi, including 8x8 sounding to support more devices and 67 percent better power efficiency.
The platform is powered by Qualcomm’s Arm-based Kyro 485 CPU that brings 45 percent more performance than the current offering, while the company’s Adreno 640 GPU delivers up to 20 percent faster graphics. Also included is Qualcomm’s multicore AI Engine that delivers more than 7 trillion operations per second and three times the performance on AI tasks than the previous platform. Qualcomm’s Hexagon 690 chip includes a new Hexagon Tensor Accelerator (HVA) and four Hexagon Vector eXtensions, which double the 855’s vector processing capabilities.
For the camera, the 855’s Spectra 380 image signal processor (ISP) includes accelerated computer vision technologies.
With the Snapdragon 8cx PC platform, Qualcomm officials said the company is opening up the promise of more thin-and-light mobile PCs as well as new form factors. The platform includes the Kyro 495 system-on-a-chip (SOC) and Adreno 680 GPU, as well as the company’s Quick Charge 4+ technology for fasting battery charging. Officials said the 8xc is the first Qualcomm platform that can easily run Windows 10 enterprise workloads and that it brings new capabilities to PCs.
“Our goal [is to] solve the pain points that have plagued PC users for years: short battery life, slow start-up cycles, the lack of a super-fast secure connection,” they wrote in a blog post. “The simple truth is that we want our PCs to be more like our smartphones.”
The PC platform is sampling with OEMs and will begin shipping in devices in third quarter of 2019.