Qualcomm Takes Next Step Towards 5G Smartphone, The Public Safety Impact

On the heels of 3GPP Release 15 completion in June, Qualcomm is launching a set of foundational 5G modules needed for mobile 5G smartphone development. The company supplies key components used by many manufacturers when building smartphones. These components include radio frontend technology -- the power amplifiers, filters, antenna switches, etc. -- and modem technology. The company's announcement states that these new modules are available to designers who are ready to sample the capabilities.

The highlights

  • Surprise, millimeter wave is now.  For early smartphone support of millimeter wave spectrum bands, Qualcomm offers its QTM052 mmWave antenna module family that features integrated radio frontend and antenna array. Up to four of these modules can be incorporated into a future 5G smartphone operating the Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 5G modem. Frequency ranges supported are between 26 and 39 GHz, with module varients across that range supporting early 5G bands identified in the US and South Korea.
  • Sub-six gigahertz modules for bread and butter 5G. In addition to the millimeter wave modules, Qualcomm announced the QPM56xx RF module family, a set of sub-6 GHz modules supporting 5G spectrum bands between 3.3 and 5.0 GHz that have emerged as the more common international bands for 5G. As with the millimeter wave modules, the sub-6 GHz modules feed the Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 5G modem.
  • The first 5G smartphones will be big(er). Early smartphone devices must also incorporate the Qualcomm Snapdragon X24 LTE modem for simultaneous connections to both LTE and 5G radio access networks. Except for China, early 5G networks are "Non-standalone" (NSA) architectures that require LTE connections for the establishment of 5G links. Future modems will combine LTE and 5G into a single unit, but early devices will be larger and consume more power.

Ready for public safety mission-critical devices?

  • Mission-critical LTE will remain the foundation for public safety operations for the foreseeable future. While public safety may benefit from some of the large bandwidth unlocked by higher frequency 5G spectrum, most public safety operations benefit from the superior propagation in spectrum bands below 1 GHz. These bands will remain LTE-based until 2025 or later.
  • Initial 5G technology is poorly matched to public safety operations. The first wave of 3GPP Release 15 5G devices in 2018 will explore the potential for high bandwidth over fixed wireless connections to eliminate cable or fiber broadband connections to residences. By tapping spectrum over 3 GHz, larger spectrum allocations become possible. But this first 5G fixed wireless technology will not be sufficiently mature for public safety applications.
  • Limited early 5G smartphone selection constrains the potential for public safety operations benefits. The new modules launched by Qualcomm provided the basis for a second wave of 5G devices in mobile smartphone form factors. However, these first mobile devices will not arrive until the second half of 2019. In the early days of a new radio generation, device suppliers introduce device variants slowly as they gain experience with challenges presented by new technology.  As a result of the limited device selection, we expect these early devices to have a very limited role, if any, in public safety operations.

What to watch

  • Video surveillance may be a big winner for public safety 5G. Spectrum limitations in lower frequency bands mean that LTE is not an ideal technology for 24x7 video surveillance. Qualcomm's modules can provide public safety agencies with cost-effective video transmission capabilities. But do not expect these to emerge until after 2020. 
  • Public safety drones can benefit from 5G. Video transmission by drones has similar constraints found with video surveillance from fixed locations. As the role of drones expands, look for 5G spectrum to be a valuable addition to the transmission toolkit. That said, mission-critical LTE will remain the foundation for beyond visual line-of-sight flight.