Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 5G modem promises 7Gbps top download speeds

Qualcomm has unleashed the Snapdragon X55, a new 5G modem that promises download speeds of up to 7Gbps, and top upload speeds of 3Gbps. 

Designed to sit inside the next generation of mobile devices, as well as Internet of Things things and smart cars, Qualcomm says that the X55 will also deliver top speeds of 2.5Gbps over 4G, while we wait for 5G to arrive.

Related: What is 5G?

Anyone who has tried to achieve the maximum speeds possible on a Category 18 LTE phone like the Samsung Galaxy S9 will tell you that even on a good day, you’re not going to get anything close to that 1.17Gbps top speed, but Qualcomm says that improved antenna tuning and ‘3D beamforming’ will, in, theory allow for better coverage.

So-called 3D beamforming or full dimension MIMO (FD-MIMO) to give it its proper title, will also allow for networks to better track users’ devices indoors and outdoors, as phones are tracked through three axes instead of one plane, which is how beamforming currently works with 4G tech.

Staff at a press briefing in London declined to talk about any real-world speeds in terms of numbers, but said that these improvements, along with improved envelope tracking, mean that phones tapping into ultrafast 5G services won’t necessarily be as battery-thirsty as you might think, either.

Qualcomm’s senior director of business development Ben Timmons explained: “Power is managed in phones through a recursive process of phone-to-network and network-to-phone talking. When in poor coverage, the network tells the phone to use more power to boost signal. The tighter than conversation, the better you can manage power.

“The network asks for variants of extra power, which are set at levels. Envelope tracking makes much tighter adjustments, which makes a tremendous difference to power management.”

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This should hopefully offset any power drain you might expect from your phone while browsing the web at several gigabits per second – though we won’t know for sure until we get the first X55 devices in for testing and, of course, get to actually use 5G. 

Another key point about the Snapdragon X55 is that it’s designed to send and receive data over all of the radio frequencies being used to carry 2G, 3G and 4G services now and those earmarked for future 5G rollouts.

That might not seem like the biggest deal – you might expect a new 5G modem to work with what’s currently there and also be future-proofed – but it’s worth remembering that networks around the world are planning to re-farm spectrum currently used for older services for 5G, as soon as local regulators and budgets allow.

Since September, EE has been talking about moving 3G services off of the 2100MHz RF band to make way for 4G. In time, it follows that networks will be able to make way for 5G in the same way. As and when that happens, devices equipped with the Snapdragon X55 will be ready and waiting.

This also means that when you travel abroad for work or go on holiday, if your phone has a Snapdragon X55 modem sitting inside, you should be able to connect to 5G services, whether your network at home has only rolled out services on the 3.4GHz band, and the networks you’re hopping on overseas have only deployed 5G on 700MHz.

In the UK, telecoms regulator Ofcom ruled in the first 5G spectrum auction that the 2.3GHz bands could be used for 4G or 5G, while the 3.4GHz band can only be used for 5G services.

Auctions for slices of the 3.6-3.8GHz bands – which, along with the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz frequencies, are collectively referred to as the ‘Sub-6GHz’ bands – are due to take place in the UK later this year.

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Aside from regulatory scrambling and network auctioning, Qualcomm says its doing more to help the industry by offering an all-in solution with the X55:

“[Phone manufacturers] face a range of formidable design challenges when it comes to 5G. The need to support multimode operation from 5G to 2G, along with an ever-increasing number of band combinations, brings unprecedented complexity,” Cristiano Amon, president, Qualcomm Incorporated said.

“Discrete modem or RF solutions are no longer sufficient. Qualcomm Technologies is unique in the mobile industry by offering a comprehensive modem-to-antenna solution, and we are pioneering efforts in all aspects of 5G and ready to enable our customers with these capabilities to help them commercialize the first wave of 5G devices this year.”

The first devices to feature Snapdragon X55 modems aren’t expected to hit shelves until late 2019, according to Qualcomm, but we very much expect to hear more about 5G services and phones – as well as MiFis, laptops, tablets, cars and other devices – at MWC 2019.

Are you excited for the advent of 5G, or are you still waiting for 4G to roll out to your neck of the woods? Let us know on Twitter – if you can – @TrustedReviews.