The first 5G phones we'll see this year — many of which will debut at next week's Mobile World Congress — are going to use Qualcomm's X50 modem to connect to the emerging high-speed networks. But that's not the only modem the parts-maker has planned for 2019.
Qualcomm today (Feb. 19) took the wraps off the X55 5G modem. The 7-nanometer chip is expected to find its way into devices by the latter part of the year.
One of the big changes introduced by the X55 is that it integrates connectivity for multiple types of mobile network, from 5G all the way down to 2G. The X50 offers only 5G connectivity, so phones with that modem also feature Qualcomm's X24 LTE modem, which is capable of delivering speeds up to 2 Gbps.
There's also a speed bump for the new modem, Qualcomm says. The X55 can support download speeds of up to 7 Gbps over 5G, and 2.5 Gbps download speeds on LTE, at least where there are networks capable of that kind of performance.
That caveat might give smartphone shoppers some pause, wondering if they should consider holding off on buying a 5G phone until devices equipped with Qualcomm's newer modem are available. But Qualcomm executives dismissed those concerns, noting that the X50 is plenty powerful on its own, and that the presence of both 5G and LTE modems on initial 5G-capable phones won't make said smartphones any thicker than handsets currently on the market.
Besides, it's some of the other, more technical features of the X55 that make this modem a noteworthy step forward in the move toward 5G networking. The X55 supports both mmWave and sub-6 GHz bands, Qualcomm says. It also supports the FDD spectrum usage technique, in addition to TDD, and it can be used in both standalone and non-standalone deployments. All of that means the X55 can be used by a wider array of network operators around the world, speeding up the 5G rollout.
The arrival of the X55 also means extending 5G connectivity beyond just smartphones and mobile hotspots, Qualcomm executives said. The new modem is designed to work with everything from fixed wireless connectivity to laptops and automotive systems.
In addition to the X55, Qualcomm also announced a new 5G mmWave antenna module that's more compact than previous antennas. The QTM525 module can fit in 5G phones that are thinner than 8mm (about 0.31 inches). They also add support for new wireless bands being auctioned in North America and Europe.
Expect to hear plenty more about 5G from Qualcomm during next week's Mobile World Congress, where the chip maker plans to offer live demos of 5G use cases.
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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.