Qualcomm, Vivo collaborate to integrate mmWave with sub-6 GHz in single form factor

Qualcomm booth
Qualcomm Technologies and Vivo integrated 28 GHz technology with sub-6 GHz in a commercial form factor. (FierceWireless)

Qualcomm and Chinese handset OEM Vivo managed to accomplish something pretty key to the whole 5G thing: coming up with a design that integrates 28 GHz millimeter antenna arrays into a commercial form factor that also uses sub-6 GHz technologies.

Qualcomm engineers have been collaborating with Vivo for months on the design prior to making the June 22 announcement. They also conducted a number of radiated measurements at Qualcomm’s antenna lab in San Diego to verify performance.

“This achievement, the demonstration of 5G mmW coexisting with sub-6 GHz in a commercial form factor, is groundbreaking work critical to the commercial launch of 5G,” wrote Allen Tran, vice president, engineering at Qualcomm Technologies, in a blog post.

While engineers have had decades to understand sub-6 GHz technologies, knowledge in millimeter wave and behaviors are newer by comparison. Compared to sub-6 GHz, one of the key advantages of millimeter wave is the wide bandwidth, enabling extreme speeds, improvements in latency and capacity, Tran said. However, sub-6 GHz technologies continue to play a critical role, allowing for flexible deployments with ubiquitous network coverage and a wide range of use cases. For the full benefit of 5G, handsets should have both sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave antenna systems coexisting in the same device, he said.

The companies expect both 5G sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave antenna technology will be deployed in every major market around the world, with some markets up and running by 2019 and others to follow in 2020.

It’s worth noting that more and more technologies are getting  packed into devices: multiple radios for cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC, each running on dozens of frequencies with strict power and safety requirements but in a thin form factor.

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Skeptics about millimeter wave have questioned whether it’s really conducive for mobility, but Qualcomm engineers have been bent on proving it's viability for smartphones in a mobile environment. Similar to the CDMA generation, when critics called into question whether that technology would work in commercial cellular systems, Qualcomm took on the challenge to make mobile devices workable at the higher bands.

3GPP just finalized the Standalone (SA) version of the 5G New Radio (NR) standard on June 13 after having finalized the Non Standalone (NSA) version in December 2017. But there’s still a lot of work to be done on the 5G standard before all is said and done.

Besides approving the SA version, the meeting in La Jolla, California, this month produced another milestone in the approval of a package of new projects for the second phase of 5G, which will shape 3GPP Release 16 specifications. Whereas Release 15 is all about mobile broadband, in Release 16, there’s going to be a strong focus on the expansion of cellular into new areas, Lorenzo Casaccia, vice president of technical standards, Qualcomm Europe, told FierceWirelessTech.

That’s not a new trend per se; it’s been going on for several years now, but it comes to fruition with Release 16, he said. Certainly, there will be further attempts to enhance mobile broadband, but projects are also aimed at the industrial IoT, Cellular V2X for advanced use cases, 5G NR in unlicensed spectrum, massive IoT, broadcast, integrated access and backhaul, 5G positioning and 5G NR for nonterrestrial (low-orbit satellite) deployment.

The wireless industry has seen some success in getting other industries to participate in the 3GPP standards process; that’s evident in meetings that now have 300 attendees where they used to have only 100, he said. The C-V2X community has been quite successful in getting more car manufacturers involved, for example, and broadcasters from various geographic regions around the world are joining as well. "It's a learning process," in terms of getting more industries involved, he said.