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Qualcomm is more than a Snapdragon ARM chip maker for mobile phones. Its technology is pervasive in autonomous vehicles, 5G, Wi-Fi, Sound, networking, routers and, well life!

The company has been in the wars lately with it lodging multi-billion-dollar law-suits against Apple and vice versa. There are also allegations by the US Federal Trade Commission about anti-competitive behaviour. The Verge has a good overview of that here.

All that does not amount to a ‘hill of beans’ when you look at how much Qualcomm research and development adds to our daily lives. For example, it doubtful that the smartphone would have made it off the ground or mobile broadband become a reality without its work.

At CES it was showing its Snapdragon 855 – the next super-system-on-a-chip, multigigabit 5G modem and the always-connected PC (or more specifically Windows on ARM).

Qualcomm

It was also showing off its Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit Platform which will help cars to become even more semi-autonomous.

Qualcomm

GadgetGuy is most interested in the mobile world so here is an overview of what to expect from Qualcomm based smartphones, 5G and Wi-Fi this year.

Wi-Fi 6 – or Wi-Fi AX as it was known

Wi-Fi 6 is what was called 80211.AX. GadgteGuy has a good overview of the new naming conventions here. It is worth a read to understand why Wi-Fi 6 is such an advance over Wi-Fi 5 (AC) and yet can support all A, B, G, N, and AC devices making them even faster. Let’s just say that the fastest Wi-Fi 5 is AC5300 (combined Mbps) and Wi-Fi 6 starts at 6,000Mbps and premium routers will support 11,000Mbps or more.

Qualcomm’s router chip is a quad-core 2.2GHz ARM A53 64-bit CPU  

  • Up to 12 streams of dual-band Wi-Fi (eight x 5 GHz band and four x 2.4 GHz).
  • Peak aggregate speeds of up to 6 Gbps that can support more than 1000 simultaneously connected Wi-Fi clients.
  • Multi-user radio access enabling up to 8 simultaneous transmissions using upstream/ downstream MIMO or more than 32 simultaneous transmissions using OFDMA.
  • It will provide the dedicated back-haul headroom needed to make Mesh effective.

Outside of the home, Wi-Fi Qualcomm has substantial enterprise use in devices from Ruckus, Huawei, NEC and many more.

Qualcomm 5G in mobile

Not to get too techy but every smartphone has a modem chip. Qualcomm’s X50 5G modem competes with Intel XMM8000 modem, Samsung Exynos 5G, Huawei and other 5G modems.

Qualcomm

5G is still more a concept that an everyday reality. For example, there are three categories – Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC), and Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC).

5G will use spectrum in the existing 4G LTE FR1 (600 MHz to 6 GHz) and FR2 millimetre wave (mmWave) bands (24–86 GHz) a.k.a. 5G NR (new radio).

Initial 5G NR launches will depend on existing LTE 4G infrastructure in non-standalone (NSA) mode, before maturation of the standalone (SA) mode with the 5G core network.

At this point, carriers are using different implementations and frequencies so a 5G phone that works in Australia on one network may not work elsewhere. Our advice – don’t rush out and pay more for a 5G smartphone – wait until 2020 or later.

Cristiano Amon, president, Qualcomm, said

“We believe that virtually all 5G mobile devices launched in 2019 will use Qualcomm Technologies’ 5G solutions. 5G will pave the way for next-generation immersive experiences, including near-instant access to cloud services, multiplayer VR gaming, shopping with AR, and real-time video collaboration. The world is ready for the 5G smartphone premium experience and Qualcomm Technologies, along with our OEM, operator and infrastructure partners, will be first delivering those experiences in 2019.”

Qualcomm Snapdragon 855

The Snapdragon 855 is the first commercial mobile platform to support multi-gigabit 5G. It pairs the 855 with a Snapdragon X50 5G LTE modem that supports both Sub-6GHz and mmWave frequency bands. An X24 LTE modem covers 3G and 4G LTE and its 60GHz Wi-Fi 6 modem for up to 10Gbps over Wi-Fi.

Qualcomm

It uses a 7nm die so its power efficient and smaller and 45% faster than the previous 845. The Adreno 640GPU is 20% faster too.

It is all about AI. It can process over 7 trillion operations per second – three times the 845. It works closely with Google to ensure Android Pie and later support all the chip functions, and vice versa.

Camera-wise it is the first to support computer vision for depth sensing and so much more.

GadgetGuy’s take: Give me a Qualcomm based smartphone

Not taking away from Samsung’s Exynos (that I suspect is a Snapdragon in all but name) and Huawei’s Kirin 980 and later super chips, but let’s just say a phone made using Qualcomm reference designs (all processing, coms and sound use Qualcomm) will be significantly better than a phone that just its GPU and other cheaper components.

I can’t help but think of the excellent Google Pixel 3 XL – a 100% reference design with a few secret sauce ingredients for the camera. Technically and physically it is the best performing Qualcomm 845 of all.

As I said at the beginning I am grateful for all that Qualcomm brings to our lives and the competition is encourages to lift the bar for all.