The new Qualcomm Snapdragon X24 LTE modem provides max throughput of 2.0 Gbps
As we approach Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in less than two weeks, we are starting to get more early releases of what the world’s leading mobile companies are planning to show off at the show. We have seen some announcements from LG, Samsung Electronics, Intel and Verizon wrapped around the Winter Olympics. Qualcomm is no exception here, as they gave updates on their Snapdragon 845 a few days ago which analyst Anshel Sag covered over on UploadVR, which is expected to be in many flagship Android devices this year. The focus of many people’s attention, however, is what the company has to offer with their Snapdragon X50 5G modem which we covered here. While 5G modems aren’t expected to ship in Android smartphones until 2019, there is a lot of curiosity about the next fundamental change in wireless cellular networks. Having the endpoints and carrier equipment to connect to removes all carrier excuses unless, of course, the billions they are investing to fund rollouts.
Snapdragon X50 5G modem at 4.5Gbps (so far)
Previously, Qualcomm had announced their Snapdragon X50 modem with a capability of a maximum throughput of 1.24 Gbps which is already a pretty significant improvement over the LTE modems at that time. At that point, most LTE modems were up to
1 Gbps theoretical, so it was a nice thing to see even faster speeds, but it wasn’t by any means a crazy speed. And now, according to Qualcomm’s own internal testing they have reached peak total throughput of 4.51 Gbps which is nearly 4x the speed that they had only a few months ago. This is possible thanks to the ability to adding support to more carriers than they had previously had on the X50 modem going from 2x to 8x carrier aggregation. 4.5 Gbps is a lot more along the lines of what people have expected to see from a 5G modem and will likely require two mmWave antenna arrays on the device. In fact, to prove that this is happening now, analyst Anshel Sag saw with his own eyes Qualcomm show off their MWC demo with a live mobile-sized device and base station blasting the signal straight at the device achieving speeds of up to 4.3 Gbps. Qualcomm was very clear to point out during the demo that real-world will be around 1-2 Gbps, which makes sense even when you compare real-world LTE versus max theoretical throughput.
Snapdragon X24 4G LTE modem at 2Gbps
In addition to having a 4.5 Gbps 5G modem, Qualcomm unleashed their latest LTE modem, the Snapdragon X24. This modem is Qualcomm’s state of the art LTE modem with a ton of world first announcements, which you would almost expect from a company like Qualcomm. This new modem, to me, indicates that the need for competition in the wireless ecosystem is a good thing and to have someone like Intel challenging Qualcomm is a good thing. In November of last year, Intel announced their own XMM 7660 LTE modem capable of 1.6 Gbps which Intel expects to ship sometime in 2019. At that time, this was faster than Qualcomm’s X20 LTE modem which is expected to be available early this year. However, it looks like Qualcomm upped the ante on Intel with the new Snapdragon X24 in a meaningful manner.
Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X24 sets a standard for high-performance LTE in a way that puts the goal posts out for Intel and others that will be difficult to meet. To be fair, we haven’t heard yet what Intel will release at MWC, so maybe they have some tricks up their sleeve. The Snapdragon X24 multi-gigabit LTE modem is capable of 2 Gbps peak download speeds, double that of the X16 LTE modem, Qualcomm’s first gigabit LTE modem. What makes this feat amazing is that Qualcomm only started shipping the X16 in devices in 2017 and they already are talking about 2 Gbps for LTE with the X24 in only their third generation. This is also the first LTE Cat. 20 modem, which is how it is classified as with a peak download speed of 2 Gbps. This is possible thanks to being able to support 20 simultaneous data streams of 100 Mbps each, which is what makes the 2 Gbps possible through a combination of licensed spectrum and LAA. In addition to blazing download speeds, the upload speeds on the Snapdragon X24 modem are also improved with the introduction of 3x upload CA and 256 QAM modulation. 3x ULCA and 256 QAM help the X24 come out to a maximum theoretical upload of 316 Mbps, which is higher than the download of some modems in phones today.
First 7nm smartphone SOC
The Snapdragon X24 multi-gigabit LTE modem is also the first 7nm SoC ever announced. Yes, we all know there are 7nm chips coming down the pipeline soon, but nobody has announced any chips that will be 7nm yet, until now. In addition to being the first 7nm chip, it is also the first modem announced from Qualcomm to support 7x carrier aggregation and the first to support 4x4 MIMO on 5 carriers, which allows for 2 Gbps speeds on as few as 5 carriers. Intel’s upcoming XMM 7660 is capable of 8x carrier aggregation but can only reach peak speeds of 1.6 Gbps on as few as 4 carriers. However, Qualcomm’s X24 is already sampling to customers and is expected to ship by the end of this year and in commercial devices early next year which is before the Intel XMM 7660 is expected to ship.
What these two announcements do other than set a new level of performance expectations for both 5G and 4G LTE is to establish a solid baseline of performance for future devices. We are already starting to hear that real-world 5G speeds are going to be somewhere in the low gigabit range. But 5G coverage real-world perfect, especially not indoors not at least initially. That’s why having a fast LTE connectivity to support it will be so important in the foreseeable future, at least until we start seeing 5G deployed in lower bands like what T-Mobile plans to do with 600 MHz. Having multi-gigabit connectivity on both 5G and 4G will be the premium experience going into the future and Qualcomm has given us a glimpse of what that will look like. As I expected, Qualcomm, not satisfied with the competition narrowing the gap, just moved the goal posts. Now it’s Huawei, Intel, and Samsung Electronics to show their next move in mobile LTE and 5G.
Note: Analyst Anshel Sag made significant contributions to this blog.