The road to 5G networking came into sharper focus today (Feb. 8), with Qualcomm revealing widespread support for its 5G modem in upcoming trials of the networking standard.
The Snapdragon X50 modem also figures to power the first round of 5G devices with more than a dozen device makers pledging to use the component in future products.
Qualcomm says 19 wireless network operators around the globe plan to use the X50 5G modem in live over-the-air trials of the 5G standard. That number includes AT&T, Sprint and Verizon as well as Deutsche Telekom, the parent company of T-Mobile. So that means Qualcomm's modem will figure into 5G trials starting as soon as this year in the U.S., since both AT&T and Verizon plan on starting 5G trials in 2018.
In addition to carriers, Qualcomm's modem also has the backing of 18 device makers, who say they'll build 5G devices with the X50 modem, with those devices arriving in 2019. Companies touted by Qualcomm include Asus, HTC, LG, Sony, ZTE and HMD Global, the maker of Nokia phones.
Today's announcements were largely symbolic on some level — trials won't begin until later in the year and those promised 5G devices won't land in your hands until after that. But it's still a noteworthy development if you're keeping tabs on the progress toward 5G. Here's why:
* It firms up the arrival date for 5G-ready devices: While 5G equipment will be used in trials taking place this year, devices ready for consumers are on tap for a 2019 debut. It's possible that some 5G-ready phones might still be ready by year's end, but the equipment makers using Qualcomm's 5G modems sound committed to the 2019 date.
* That, in turn, means 5G is on track to launch next year: You can still expect wider adoption of 5G in 2020 and beyond, but the combination of trials this year and 5G product debuts next year draws a big red circle in the calendar around 2019 as the target date for 5G's debut.
"The activity we see in 2018 gives us 100 percent confidence we'll see [5G] rollouts in 2019," said Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm president, during a briefing outlining his company's many 5G partnerships.
* That X50 modem sounds pretty powerful: Qualcomm's marketing materials for the X50 5G modem promise download speeds of up to 5 Gbps. While that's a peak speed, you should still expect much faster download speeds and lower latency than today's handsets.
That advantage, Qualcomm's Amon says, will give smartphone users and wireless carriers more capacity for unlimited data and the ability to connect to cloud services more quickly. As a result, you'll be able to download 4K movies faster or enjoy some graphic-intensive connected gaming with no noticeable lag.
While announcing carrier and device maker partnerships, Qualcomm says it plans to showcase the X50 modem at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona later this month, highlighting the new experiences that will be possible with 5G networking.
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Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.