5G can’t come soon enough, apparently. Here at Mobile World Congress today, a host of 5G players pledged to put the pedal to the metal so official 5G networks can launch in 2019, as Qualcomm and Samsung announced key new modems you’ll need to connect to these upcoming networks.
Yes, yes, AT&T and Verizon say they’re launching “5G” this year, and good for them. They’re launching a sort of hopeful pre-5G that uses many elements of the upcoming spec, but will probably need an equipment change when official 5G comes around.
Until now, the plan was for the 5G spec to be finalized in late 2018, with large-scale deployment in 2020. Today, the 5G crowd said they can speed that up to 2019; that includes heavy hitters like AT&T, Sprint, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Intel, LG, Huawei, and ZTE.
“For this to happen, the whole industry has to get together and actually accelerate the standard,” said Rasmus Hellberg, Qualcomm director of technical marketing.
The switch involves the difference between “standalone” and “non-standalone” 5G. The accelerated 5G will be non-standalone, which means it will need to lean on an LTE signal to set itself up and negotiate handoffs. That privileges existing carriers with big LTE networks, of course. Standalone 5G, which doesn’t require an LTE network, will still come in 2020. The two systems will be compatible with each other, a Qualcomm press release says.
“Part of this commitment to accelerate is a commitment to make forward compatibility a key element,” Mr. Hellberg said.
This Might Go in Your 5G iPhone …
A network isn’t very useful without modems to connect to it, so Qualcomm and Samsung announced today that they’re delivering some new, more useful modems to hook up to those accelerated 5G networks.
Qualcomm is turning its existing standalone X50 modem into an “X50 modem family” which also supports 4G, 3G, and 2G. This is important because nobody wants to put a standalone 5G modem into a smartphone if they can avoid it, as running two cellular modems drains the battery. (If you remember the lousy battery life on the first Verizon LTE phones, that’s why it was so bad.)
The new Snapdragon X50 family modems will support the new accelerated 5G standard as well as gigabit LTE for a gentle fallback, and we expect them to be an optional part of the 2019 Snapdragon system-on-chip lineup, the way the X16 is for this year’s Snapdragon 835 and the X20 is anticipated for next year’s models. But they’ll also be available for manufacturers who use discrete application processors and modems, Qualcomm noted. Apple is by far the largest such manufacturer on the U.S. market, although the name never passes Qualcomm’s lips.
“There may [also] be a follow-on to the X20 that is still gigabit class LTE [and not 5G],” Qualcomm marketing manager Sherif Hanna said.
Qualcomm says to expect these modems to appear in 2019 smartphones, so we’re all on the same page here. “The first 5G NR (new radio) networks that will roll out in 2019 will have Snapdragon based devices attached to them,” Qualcomm Hanna said.
… And This Will Kill Your ISP
Samsung, meanwhile, just announced 5G home modems and equipment to hook up to, hopefully, cable ISP-busting home access networks. That’s in sync with Verizon’s and AT&T’s initial plans.
Samsung’s new 5G Home Router needs to be put in a window facing a 5G cell site, where it will broadcast 1Gbps connectivity throughout your house. We knew of that line-of-sight restriction already; it’s a condition of the millimeter wave networks that Verizon and AT&T are initially launching, and the situation will improve as the technology gets better.
Samsung also announced the 5G cell site that will sit in your neighborhood facing your window-mounted router, saying that the site can deliver a total of 10Gbps to all the devices within its coverage range. The devices are designed to be “largely software upgradeable” to the actual 5G standards when they’re finalized, Samsung says.