It seems like 5G is one of those things that's perpetually sitting out on the horizon in tech news, but today Qualcomm took a decent step forward when it comes to a particular implementation. One of the carriers' more ambitious 5G solutions is to harness the high-frequency millimeter wave (mmWave) bands, which promise high bandwidth and low congestion, at the cost of limited coverage and some practicality concerns. But with Qualcomm's recently announced mmWave antennas, some of the issues related to it may be overcome.

For a quick bit of background, millimeter wave (mmWave) corresponds to the higher-frequencies carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile plan to use for early 5G deployments. Unfortunately, those mmWave frequencies don't propagate as well as the lower frequencies we're all used to, and some of them can be easily obstructed by... pretty much anything. Even holding your phone "wrong" could block the signal.

That, coupled with other engineering challenges like regulatory requirements and thermal problems associated with its use, has kept mmWave tech generally out of the hands of consumers, especially when it comes to mobile phones. But thanks to Qualcomm's work with its new QTM052 mmWave antenna modules—which include reception-boosting technologies like beam forming, beam steering, and beam tracking—the issue of range should be at least partially mitigated.

The new antennas support a combined ~4.5 GHz between 16.5 and 40GHz, with Qualcomm claiming up to four of them can be used together in a single phone, with all the conveniences of the radio transceiver, power management IC, RF front-end components, and a phased antenna array included on one solution. It even expects to see devices including the hardware available as early as the first half of 2019.

Another module family (QPM56xx) announced in tandem will also be bringing 5G speeds to sub-6GHz frequencies, so this announcement isn't exclusive to the (much less useful) short-distance mmWave tech. This other RF module family works in tandem with its X50 modem, harnessing a handful of more generally useful sub-6GHz frequencies—NR frequency bands n77, n78, and n79, to be specific.

To be honest, I don't have a lot of hope for mmWave as a realistic consumer solution outside super-congested areas like crowded event floors or auditoriums, but plenty of carriers and hardware suppliers seem to think otherwise so I could be proven wrong. Either way, at least 5G developments at lower, more generally useful frequencies is also continuing.

Both the new antenna and the sub-6GHz module are being sampled to Qualcomm's customers as of now, so consumer-facing hardware should be in the pipe.

Press Release

Qualcomm Delivers Breakthrough 5G NR mmWave and Sub-6 GHz RF Modules for Mobile Devices
— New family of mmWave antenna modules makes mobile mmWave viable in a smartphone form factor, supporting large-scale commercialization —

JUL 23, 2018SAN DIEGO
Qualcomm products mentioned within this press release are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., a subsidiary of Qualcomm Incorporated (NASDAQ: QCOM), today unveiled the world’s first fully-integrated 5G NR millimeter wave (mmWave) and sub-6 GHz RF modules for smartphones and other mobile devices. The Qualcomm® QTM052 mmWave antenna module family and the Qualcomm® QPM56xx sub-6 GHz RF module family pair with the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ X50 5G modem to deliver modem-to-antenna capabilities across several spectrum bands, in a very compact footprint that is suited for integration in mobile devices.

“Today’s announcement of the first commercial 5G NR mmWave antenna modules and sub-6 GHz RF modules for smartphones and other mobile devices represents a major milestone for the mobile industry. Qualcomm Technologies’ early investment in 5G has allowed us to deliver to the industry a working mobile mmWave solution that was previously thought unattainable, as well as a fully-integrated sub-6 GHz RF solution. Now, these type of modem-to-antenna solutions, spanning both mmWave and sub-6 spectrum bands, make mobile 5G networks and devices, especially smartphones, ready for large scale commercialization,” said Cristiano Amon, President, Qualcomm Incorporated. “With 5G, consumers can expect gigabit-class Internet speeds with unprecedented responsiveness in the palm of their hands, which stand to revolutionize the mobile experience.”

To date, mmWave signals have not been used for mobile wireless communications due to the many technical and design challenges they pose, which impact nearly every aspect of device engineering, including materials, form-factor, industrial design, thermals, and regulatory requirements for radiated power. As such, many in the mobile industry considered mmWave highly impractical for mobile devices and networks, and thus unlikely to materialize.

The QTM052 mmWave antenna modules work in tandem with the Snapdragon X50 5G modem, as a comprehensive system, to help overcome the formidable challenges associated with mmWave. They support advanced beam forming, beam steering, and beam tracking technologies, drastically improving the range and reliability of mmWave signals. They feature an integrated 5G NR radio transceiver, power management IC, RF front-end components and phased antenna array. They support up to 800 MHz of bandwidth in the 26.5-29.5 GHz (n257), as well as the entire 27.5-28.35 GHz (n261) and 37-40 GHz (n260) mmWave bands. Most importantly, the QTM052 modules integrate all these capabilities in a very compact footprint, such that up to four of them can be integrated in a smartphone. This allows OEMs to continue evolving the industrial design of their mobile devices, offering attractive form factors combined with the benefits of extremely high speeds from mmWave 5G NR, and making such devices available for launch as early as the first half of 2019.

While mmWave is best suited for providing 5G coverage in dense urban areas and crowded indoor environments, broad 5G NR coverage will be achieved in sub-6 GHz spectrum bands. As such, the QPM56xx RF module family (including the QPM5650, QPM5651, QDM5650, and QDM5652) is designed to allow smartphones based on the Snapdragon X50 5G modem to support 5G NR in sub-6 GHz RF bands. The QPM5650 and QPM5651 feature integrated 5G NR PA/LNA/Switch and filtering subsystem. The QDM5650 and QDM5652 feature integrated 5G NR LNA/switch and filtering subsystem for diversity and MIMO support. All four modules offer integrated SRS switching required for optimum massive MIMO applications and support for 3.3-4.2 GHz (n77), 3.3-3.8 GHz (n78) and 4.4-5.0 GHz (n79) sub-6 bands. These sub-6 GHz RF modules provide mobile device makers with a viable path to delivering on the promise of 5G NR massive MIMO technology in mobile devices.

Both the QTM052 mmWave antenna module family and the QPM56xx sub-6 GHz RF module family are now sampling to customers.

About Qualcomm

Qualcomm invents breakthrough technologies that transform how the world connects, computes and communicates. When we connected the phone to the Internet, the mobile revolution was born. Today, our inventions are the foundation for life-changing products, experiences, and industries. As we lead the world to 5G, we envision this next big change in cellular technology spurring a new era of intelligent, connected devices and enabling new opportunities in connected cars, remote delivery of health care services, and the IoT — including smart cities, smart homes, and wearables. Qualcomm Incorporated includes our licensing business, QTL, and the vast majority of our patent portfolio. Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., a subsidiary of Qualcomm Incorporated, operates, along with its subsidiaries, all of our engineering, research and development functions, and all of our products and services businesses, including, the QCT semiconductor business. For more information, visit Qualcomm’s website, OnQ blog, Twitter and Facebook pages.