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Qualcomm Looks to a Multimode – & More Competitive – Future

Dan Jones
9/4/2019

Qualcomm is looking beyond its initial X50 5G modem for emerging devices to its X55 multimode 5G modem, which it expects to launch by the end of this year as the 5G landscape evolves into a multimode world.

Qualcomm claims its 5G 855 Snapdragon chipset -- along with its current X50 5G modem -- is in "almost every flagship smartphone announced in 2019."

The latest of these is the mid-range Samsung A90 5G, which is now on sale in South Korea at 900,000 South Korean Won (KRW) (US$744). Notably, this is priced lower than the majority of flagship 5G handsets released so far, many of which retail for more than $1,000.

With the X50 modem, Qualcomm is so far supporting millimeter wave frequencies (28GHz, 39GHz) in the US, mid-band frequencies such as 3.5GHz in South Korea and 2.5GHz for Sprint in the US.

The next step for the chipmaker is to deliver low-band 5G support. It expects that to happen towards the end of this year with the unveiling of the X55 multimode 5G modem, which will also support 4G and 3G. This new product should also, generally, result in 5G devices that are thinner than those currently available.

"We have stated publicly towards the end of 2019 -- that's when I would expect them to be available," says Bassil Elkadi, Qualcomm's marketing director.

"We announced our 2nd generation 5G modem at MWC 2019, [the] Snapdragon X55 5G modem. This modem will support low-band FDD [frequency division duplexing]," he says.

Availability of this chipset will be crucial for T-Mobile's 600MHz 5G rollout starting in 2020, and -- possibly -- AT&T's deployment of 700MHz 5G in the first half of next year.

Qualcomm will face more 5G chipset competition next year from the likes of MediaTek and Samsung: Although the latter has signed up to use Qualcomm 5G chips in its smartphones, it also produces the Exynos Modem 5100 5G multimode chipset.

And then there's the China trade-war fallout to deal with. The US trade restrictions on component sales to Huawei, which had been an increasingly important customer, has already had an impact on Qualcomm: In the second quarter of 2019, Qualcomm's modem shipments fell 22% year-over-year to $156 million. Huawei is already moving to rely more on its own HiSilicon division for communications chips, and it also has its own Balong 5000 5G multimode chipset. So add Huawei to the list of rivals likely to put pressure on Qualcomm in 2020 and beyond.

In the initial stages of the 5G era (late 2018 into 2019), Qualcomm had a clear first mover (possibly only mover!) advantage in device modems. As the market evolves, however, Qualcomm will face greater competition as more carriers launch more services across a broader range of spectrum bands and, subsequently, seek an ever-greater variety of end-user devices at various price points.

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— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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