T-Mobile, Qualcomm fire up first 600 MHz 5G data call on commercial modem

T-Mobile
The milestone is important because the first 5G smartphones on the market aren’t capable of supporting low-band FDD spectrum that carriers plan to use to deliver broad 5G coverage.

T-Mobile and Qualcomm have notched an achievement on the path to nationwide 5G. The companies, along with partner Ericsson, successfully completed a data call on 600 MHz frequency division duplex (FDD) spectrum using Qualcomm’s commercial Snapdragon X55 modem.

The milestone is important because the first 5G smartphones on the market (all powered by Qualcomm’s X50 modem) aren’t capable of supporting low-band FDD spectrum that carriers plan to use to deliver broad 5G coverage.

When Qualcomm first unveiled the X55 in February, the chip maker said many operators had been waiting for a solution with FDD mode support. Current 5G phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and LG V50 Thin Q 5G can support high-band millimeter wave spectrum, but those frequencies can only travel short distances. And as seen with early 5G network deployments, 5G service using mmWave is likely to stay concentrated in dense urban areas.

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T-Mobile is using farther-reaching low-band 600 MHz spectrum for nationwide 5G outside of urban centers, which is the spectrum used in the recent data session at T-Mobile’s lab in Bellevue, Washington. In addition to Qualcomm’s X55 modem, the demo used commercial 5G radios from the Ericsson’s Radio System portfolio.

“This is a key step toward achieving our vision of 5G for All,” said Neville Ray, Chief Technology Officer at T-Mobile, in a statement. “This modem will power devices that tap into the 600 MHz low-band spectrum we’ll use to blanket the country with 5G.”

The integrated X55 supports 5G sub-6 GHz and mmWave spectrum bands, and both non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA) network deployments, so future devices should be able to handle any flavor of 5G or combination of 4G and legacy modes that an operator may need.

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“Today’s data call marks a significant milestone in 5G’s ongoing rollout across the United States, paving the way for the launch of commercial networks and devices on low-band FDD spectrum,” said Cristiano Amon, president, Qualcomm Incorporated. “This call demonstrates the ability to dramatically increase 5G’s global footprint.”

Devices using the X55 5G modem are expected to be available later this year, but which one will be first remains to be seen. AT&T previously disclosed plans to introduce a sub-6 GHz capable smartphone from Samsung in the second half of 2019.  

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Notably, operators in countries other than the U.S. with maximum 5G speeds above 1 Gbps are using mid-band spectrum rather than mmWave for 5G.