The first 5G-Advanced smartphones could be hitting the shelves later this year, after Qualcomm unveiled a new, beefier 5G modem.

Nick Wood

February 27, 2024

2 Min Read

The chip maker describes its Snapdragon X80 as 'Release 18-ready', which refers to 3GPP's upcoming 5G-Advanced standard.

It is the first Snapdragon to integrate support for NB-NTN (NB-IoT for non-terrestrial networks) on the same chip. It also supports six-antenna (6xRx) architecture, and is also capable of aggregating six component carriers (6CC) on the downlink.

It's worth touching on that 6CC carrier aggregation (CA) feature, because CA demonstrations have become a semi-regular occurrence lately, with various players in the US and Europe achieving respectable throughput using various combinations of frequencies, including 6CC in some instances. Qualcomm's name crops up in plenty of these stories, usually its role is provider of a prototype device.

Recent notable examples include Finland-based Elisa, T-Mobile US, Dish, Deutsche Telekom, and BT – both with Nokia and Ericsson.

It was highlighted in the T-Mobile 6CC story in particular that although it was a noteworthy achievement, end users wouldn't see a benefit any time soon because there were no 6CC devices available for purchase.

That looks set to change though, with Qualcomm saying the first crop of Snapdragon X80-powered devices are slated for commercial launch in the second half of this year. The company is pitching it for smartphones, fixed-wireless access (FWA) kit, PCs, dongles, connected cars, industrial IoT and extended reality (XR) devices.

In terms of peak speeds, it can reach 10 Gbps on the downlink and 3.5 Gbps on the uplink, which should be plenty fast enough to support all these XR applications that we're all definitely going to start using very soon.

Unsurprisingly, the Snapdragon X80 also packs plenty of AI heft, including a dedicated tensor accelerator tasked for improving data speeds, latency, quality of service (QoS), coverage, location accuracy, spectrum efficiency, power efficiency and multi-antenna management. It also boasts AI-based mmWave range extension for FWA customer premise equipment (CPE).

"The Snapdragon X80 modem-RF system sets the stage for 5G-Advanced and the era of intelligent computing everywhere," said Durga Malladi, SVP and general manager of technology planning and edge solutions at Qualcomm. "Leveraging AI is critical to the future of connectivity, this latest milestone underscores Qualcomm Technologies' leadership at the intersection of cutting-edge AI and advanced modem-RF technology. The Snapdragon X80 5G Modem-RF System empowers OEMs and operators to create next-generation devices supporting 5G Advanced, with unrivalled capabilities and leading performance."

Qualcomm is comfortably the biggest mobile chip maker on the planet, it's closest rival being MediaTek. But that doesn't mean it can rest on its laurels.

Samsung is still keen on making a go of its Exynos modems, while Apple has already rolled out its in-house processors and is close to transitioning away from Qualcomm modems too.

Qualcomm is under pressure to stay at the very top of its game.

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About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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