Qualcomm unveils latest 5G chipset, boasting 10 Gbps data rates

Qualcomm X65
The Snapdragon X65 features an upgradable architecture to support flexibility for different flavors of 5G. (Qualcomm)

Qualcomm unveiled its latest 5G modem-RF system, the Snapdragon X65, which among other features boasts aggregation across spectrum bands and faster data rates.

The X65 is the first 3GPP Release 16 modem-to-antenna platform and the first to support 10 Gbps 5G speeds, according to Qualcomm.  

A key feature is flexibility, enabling the adoption of new Rel-16 features as they roll out with an upgradable architecture that can be enhanced and customized for different 5G segments and vertical industries.

Beyond smartphones, Qualcomm is taking aim at future capabilities as over time the chipset can be upgraded via software to address fixed wireless access, cloud-connected computing, industrial IoT, XR, and private networks, among others.

The system is sampling to OEMs, with commercial device launches targeted for later in 2021. As a "sister" system to the X65, Qualcomm also released the X62 modem-RF, which supports up to 4.4 Gbps 5G mobile broadband. Alongside the launches, the chipmaker introduced a new second-gen 5G Fixed Wireless Access platform.

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In a video post, Durga Malladi, SVP & GM of 4G/5G at Qualcomm, talked about the pace of advancement.

“We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time,” Malladi said. He cited past work to achieve new speeds, with focus on 10 Mbps over 3G 15 years ago, 100 Mbps on 4G LTE about a decade back and the 1 Gbps threshold five years ago with LTE-Advanced. “And now it’s 10 gigabits per second with 5G. You see a pattern here, we’re increasing the peak wireless data rates by 10-times every five years or so. We’ve created a product that can usher in an era in cellular that’s 100-times faster than early LTE and just about 5,000-times faster than 3G.”

Working with the X65 is Qualcomm’s fourth-generation mmWave antenna module (QTM545) with support for all global mmWave bands including 41 GHz band,  and a revamped RF Front End (RFFE) solution.

The advancements aren’t just about speed, Malladi noted, but capacity as well to handle more users and devices.

The X65 sports broad spectrum aggregation (also known by its more confusing ‘carrier aggregation’ moniker) capabilities across all main 5G bands and different combinations – for both millimeter wave and sub-6 GHz using frequency division duplex (FDD) and time division duplex (TDD).

5G carrier aggregation is a feature major operators and vendors, including Qualcomm, have been testing to boost capacity and get more out of their spectrum resources.

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Other X65 features include enhanced all-day battery life and improved power efficiency.

Advanced antenna capabilities, including what Qualcomm says is the world’s first AI-based antenna tuning technology, are a key piece of the revamped RFFE. For example, the AI tuning technology can detect hand grips with 30% more accuracy versus earlier generations. 

Qualcomm Chip case Snapdragon X65
 Credit: Qualcomm

Hand grip is important because how a user holds a phone could potentially impede wireless signals. The new platform uses an AI model to collect data to understand how the phone is being held and then adjusts to fine tune the antenna accordingly in real time.

Qualcomm put the RFFE market in its crosshairs last year, targeting a 20% market share by 20222.

RFFE involves different components between the modem and device antennas that help handle signals sent and received over the air.

5G has brought increasing complexity to RFFE – with a significant jump in possible spectrum band combinations (more than 10,000 with 4G/5G versus less than 20 in early 4G).

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The chip giant believes having an integrated platform makes it easier on OEMs by reducing the amount of time device makers need to spend on integration and testing, so they can instead focus on industrial design and user interfaces.

“5G presents a level of complexity that our advanced RF Front-end solutions and comprehensive portfolio can uniquely resolve. We provide OEMs the technological capabilities they need to tackle 5G complexity in order to accelerate time to launch, improve performance, and lower development effort for building 5G mobile devices at scale.” said Christian Block, senior vice president and general manager, RFFE, Qualcomm Germany RFFE GmbH, in a statement.

Qualcomm is one of the only chipmakers with fully integrated end-to-end modem-to-antenna system designs, but others in the industry are also focused on issues around RFFE complexity.

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In October, major chipset and RFFE suppliers, including Broadcom, Intel, MediaTek, Murata, Qorvo, and Samsung, formed the Open RF Association (OpenRF) consortium. The goal is to standardize common elements of hardware and software across RFFE and modem platforms to reduce complexity, time and costs of building a smartphone. Qualcomm is not part of the initiative.

The release of Qualcomm’s latest 5G modem-RF comes as semiconductor shortages are impacting not just the auto industry but mobile as well.