Qualcomm announces Snapdragon 855 mobile chip as it readies for 5G

Qualcomm opened its Snapdragon Era Summit as a cheerleader, evangelizing the 5G wi-fi era that’s rolling out international from chipmakers, carriers, and smartphone makers. Qualcomm’s first “5G-ready” smartphone processor would be the Snapdragon 855.

Qualcomm executives equipped a “state of 5G” replace—phase technical abstract, phase hype. AT&T and Verizon additionally joined Qualcomm on degree to offer updates on their very own 5G rollouts, in addition to to advertise the brand new same old. 

Despite the fact that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips are constructed into telephones, a part of the 5G transition is solely convincing customers that 5G is actual, that it’s right here, and that it’s wanted. “Here’s the overall message: It’s that all the business is transferring on the similar tempo for 2019 launches. It isn’t on the subject of upgrading a mature marketplace, however transferring to new trade fashions,” mentioned Cristiano Amon, govt vice chairman of Qualcomm Applied sciences and president of Qualcomm CDMA Applied sciences (QCT), the corporate’s chipset trade, 

AT&T and Verizon equipped “reside 5G networks” to be used within the lodge web hosting the Snapdragon Era Summit, and Amon held up a primary reference handset with a 5G chip inside of it. It’s evidence, Amon mentioned, that 5G is correct across the nook. 

qualcomm snapdragon tech summit  5g nr reference design Mark Hachman / IDG

That is the Qualcomm 5G NR reference software. Despite the fact that the display screen isn’t powered on, it was once streaming video to a big Samsung TV out of body.

What this implies: There’s a substantial dose of hype round 5G, and a part of this is to easily get customers . Why does a client want 5G? Is it for sooner speeds? Executives gave one instance: downloading all episodes of a streaming video sequence as you stroll on a aircraft. However there are questions on how extensively and the way temporarily 5G infrastructure will roll out, too. One giant query: How a lot will all of this value? Sadly, neither the carriers nor Samsung would say.

5G: How we were given right here

In July, the 3GPP frame overseeing the usual revealed Liberate 15, described as vital to allow the overall dash towards 5G commercialization. That is referred to as 5G NR. (Liberate 16, described as “5G section 2,” will allow such next-gen capability as 5G LANs, satellite tv for pc connectivity, and vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity. That spec is scheduled to be revealed on the finish of 2019.)

Probably the most demanding situations of 5G, despite the fact that, is solely defining it. So-called 5G era is actually two other items: slim frequency bands within the sub-6GHz vary, and the so-called “millimeter wave” spectrum. Whilst the sub-6GHz portion of 5G provides speeds similar to nowadays’s 4G LTE, it’s the millimeter wave parts of the spectrum that may push throughput to the multi-gigabit degree—however the sign power falls off temporarily over distances.

The entire main U.S. wi-fi carriers have introduced 5G plans; relating to Verizon, the corporate introduced the primary 5G broadband community in 4 towns in October. AT&T has additionally introduced its personal 5G rollout plans, together with main metropolitan spaces in all portions of the rustic. Qualcomm invited each corporations up on degree as companions in its 5G rollout. The U.S. carriers plan to beef up each sub-6GHz in addition to millimeter-wave era, Amon mentioned. In October 2018, Amon mentioned, the primary 5G NR over-the-air name was once put on a cell software.

qualcomm snapdragon tech summit  5g in u.s. Mark Hachman / IDG

According to Qualcomm, 5G is being quickly rolled out around the globe.

“One important message is that this transition is different than the transition between 3G and 4G,” Amon added. “This will be much bigger.”

AT&T, Verizon, Samsung talk 5G rollout

Nicki Palmer, chief network engineering officer for Verizon, reminded users that its 5G home rollout was designed specifically for high-speed home broadband. As a result, Verizon has a first-mover advantage.

“5G absolutely promises to change the way we live, play, work and learn,” she said.

Verizon showed off mobile demos of how well its 5G technology network works, with gigabit speeds at about 3,000 feet away from the originating point. Mobile support will come in early 2019 with the Samsung 5G phone, as well as a Motorola Z3 that will include a 5G module, Palmer said. (It’s not clear whether those modules are in fact 5G NR compatible, however, according to analysts at the Qualcomm event.) A separate recorded demonstration of its fixed 5G home network indicated that it could transfer about 883Mbps of throughput. 

qualcomm snapdragon tech summit 5g access point Mark Hachman / IDG

Verizon and Samsung teamed up to produce this battery-powered, wireless 5G access point using Verizon’s network. Unfortunately, neither company would disclose details.

Kevin Petersen, senior vice president of wireless marketing at AT&T, said that the company believes the first 5G technologies will be focused on businesses: video “broadcasting in a box,” for example, where a camera operator would shoot and upload the video they captured almost instantaneously. 

“5G makes those things you’re doing today better,” Petersen said.

For 2019, AT&T pledged to have it own 5G smartphone, without disclosing what it would be, or whether it would support sub-6GHz technology or millimeter wave.

The one segment of the market that was sparsely represented at the event was smartphone makers, to explain their plans for 5G. Verizon and Samsung let the cat out of the bag Monday with their announcement of a 5G phone, which will ship during 2019. But it will face numerous hurdles, not the least of which may be battery life. Justin Denison, senior vice president of Samsung, appeared on stage to reiterate the phone announcement, but offered no other real details.

qualcomm snapdragon tech summit  moto z3 Mark Hachman / IDG

Though Motorola executives didn’t appear, the company showed off a Motorlola Z3, which will include an add-on MotoMod that supports 5G.

In the second half of 2019, all of the flagship customers that Qualcomm serves will be “clearly moving toward 5G,” Amon said.

One analyst said 5G is going to be a necessity: “If you are a smartphone company and don’t have 5G in 2019, you will lose unit market share,” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights. 

Qualcomm announces the Snapdragon 855

Now that the specification has been written, chipmakers are jockeying for position in the 5G space. The same development process has more frequently played out in the Wi-Fi market, where router and modem makers have developed “pre-standard” chips, only to tweak them when the final standard was published. This same process allowed Qualcomm to announce its discrete X50 5G modem in 2016, well before 3GPP published its final standard. That chip has now been respun, and is Release 15 compliant, Qualcomm executives said.

qualcomm snapdragon tech summit  snapdragon 855 Mark Hachman / IDG

Alex Katouzian, senior vice president and general manager of mobile at Qualcomm, announces the Snapdragon 855.

Two of Qualcomm’s biggest rivals, Intel and Samsung, are also developing 5G technology. Intel recently said it has pulled in the release of its first 5G modem, the XMM 8160, by a full six months. But the chip is still expected to ship at the end of 2019, leaving 5G phones using it (such as a next-generation Apple iPhone) very much in doubt. Samsung has also built its own modem, the Exynos Modem 5100, which it claims was the first to be compatible with the 3GPP Release 15 specs, and which will almost certainly be used within its own phones.

An upcoming front in the 5G wireless chip battle will be how each manages to integrate 5G into their existing controllers. For Qualcomm, that has the potential to affect the future phones of its existing customers, which include Google, OnePlus, and the U.S. version of Samsung’s Galaxy phones. Qualcomm’s flagship mobile chip is the Snapdragon line, and the new version the company announced Tuesday is the Snapdragon 855. 

Qualcomm said Tuesday that the Snapdragon 855, will “support” multi-gigabit 5G technology. (Though the Snapdragon is an integrated chip with a modem, DSP, GPU, and CPU, it does not natively support 5G. A “5G” phone would also need to include the discrete X50 modem chip, Qualcomm executives confirmed.) Qualcomm is claiming that it will be the first commercial mobile platform to support 5G, executives said.

While Qualcomm plans to offer a more in-depth look at the Snapdragon 855 on Wednesday, the company confirmed some basic features:

  • AI will again play a role within the Snapdragon 855, with a fourth-gen AI engine that delivers what the company calls three times the AI performance of the previous Snapdragon 845.
  • Twice the performance of a “competing 7nm SOC.”
  • A dedicated computer-vision Image Signal Processor (ISP) has been included for computational photography and video capture, to recognize what the camera is seeing and take better photos.
  • Qualcomm developed a 3D Sonic Sensor, an in-display ultrasonic sensor for authenticating smartphone users via their fingerprints, and through smudges on the glass. It will also read fingerprints through moisture.
  • And finally, something called Snapdragon Elite Gaming, designed to bring next-gen gaming experiences to mobile users.

Note: Because Qualcomm would provide certain information only via an in-person briefing in Hawaii, with no alternative venue in the continental United States or by virtual means, we accepted the company’s offer to pay for my flight and hotel in order to get the story.

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