We are now at the cusp of 5G adoption and it has become a buzzword like how 4G was in 2011. Smartphone manufacturers have added 5G into their phones and now we see them slapping the 5G decal on their phones.
5G hype is officially on the roof. A lot of Android smartphones out there use Qualcomm’s chips which combine the processor, graphics unit, image processing unit and a modem. With the new Snapdragon 855 platform, we have seen a strange thing: Some Android flagships are shipping with support for 5G right out of the gate.
This might be confusing for a consumer who would think every Snapdragon 855 smartphone supports 5G out of the gate. The actual reason is quite interesting.
As I explained before, Snapdragon chips are a collection of various hardware entities that do specific things. One of the components in these chips are the modems which allow you to use 4G/3G/2G networks. Qualcomm integrates their modems within their chips, but they are not doing that right now with the first wave of 5G devices.
What we are seeing is Qualcomm is providing an additional modem, the X50 modem which will allow smartphones use 5G networks. The Snapdragon 855 has an inbuilt X24 modem which supports really fast 4G (2Gbps download speeds is FAST), but if a manufacturer wants to release a phone with 5G on Qualcomm’s hardware, they have to add the extra X50 modem chip.
This is the reason why you see some phones with Snapdragon 855 chips that do not have 5G and others that do. For example, during the Samsung event on 20th February, they announced the Galaxy S10e, S10 and the S10+ with Snapdragon 855 chips that don’t have 5G, but they have a Galaxy 10 5G variant that has Qualcomm’s X50 5G modem.
Ultimately, these 5G phones will end up being more expensive due to the extra hardware needed.
There is a reason to this. Last year, Qualcomm said that in order to go into market much quicker, they had to implement this rather awkward solution.
They announced the X50 modem in October 2016 and now it is the time we are seeing it being integrated to the first wave of 5G phones. Qualcomm said that the Snapdragon X50 modem will be in 30 devices this year.
Purchasing these first wave 5G smartphones with the X50 modem might not be a good idea. Last month, Qualcomm announced the X55 modem which is an improvement of the X50 modem in every way. The X50 was 5G modem only but the X55 adds the other standards like 2G, 3G and 4G. The X55 will also be a true 5G modem where it will support the 26 Ghz, 28 Ghz and 39 Ghz band while only the X50 one only supports 28 &39 Ghz.
5G will be evolving fast, as we saw with 4G in the next decade and it will take some time for Qualcomm to integrate it into their system on a chip and not have the modem being separate.