The new Qualcomm QTM052 Antenna Module. QUALCOMM
The 5G race is in full swing, and there’s lots of competition for leadership in the space. Qualcomm has again and again re-asserted its dominance, vying against players like Intel , MediaTek and Samsung Electronics . Many companies made major announcements about their 5G ambitions around MWC earlier this year (read our coverage here and here). Today, Qualcomm announced two different RF modules for use in 5G devices—a complete mmWave module and a sub-6GHz RF front-end module
Some background on mmWave
One of the most complex parts of enabling 5G is mmWave frequencies and the antennas and front-ends that control them. MmWave technologies have never been used for mobile cellular communications before because of technological limitations. Because of the complexity and sensitivity of mmWave frequencies and getting them to the throughput numbers in the gigabits, there needs to be extremely tight integration between the different wireless components. As such, we’re seeing even tighter integration in the RF front-ends of 5G devices for both mmWave and sub-6GHz. Without tight integration, 5G NR in the mmWave spectrum won’t be able to deliver the multi-gigabit speeds that consumers have been promised with 5G.
The increasingly tighter integration of components has driven the industry more towards modules. This explains Qualcomm’s foray over the past couple of years into RF front-ends, and the resulting joint-venture with TDK. This joint venture has been crucial in the company’s advancements in wireless modules and its integration of components between the antenna and modem. With the introduction of 5G mmWave antennas and the complex beamforming that comes with it, the company has been working towards building 5G RF modules.
The new 5G NR modules have arrived
Today’s announcement is a fulfillment of Qualcomm’s commitment to deliver 5G NR modules that support both mmWave and sub-6GHz frequencies. For Qualcomm’s mmWave 5G module, the QTM052, the company has integrated all the RF components into the same module as the mmWave antennas, allowing for the most physically compact solution possible. This module will connect directly with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X50 5G modem to create a complete 5G wireless solution. This module can support 28 GHz and 39 GHz frequencies, with a bandwidth of 800 MHz—necessary to deliver the theoretical peak 5 Gbps of bandwidth. The module integrates 3 major components into a single package: the antenna arrays, the RF radio transceiver, and all the RF components (including filters and amplifiers).
The second module, the QPM56xx, is the company’s 5G NR sub-6GHz module. This module is designed to simplify the deployment of 5G in mid-band and high-band spectrum for operators launching 5G first in sub-6GHz spectrum. This module does not include antennas since they are much larger and may be shared for other wireless connectivity like 4G or Wi-Fi. Qualcomm has more competition in this space since companies like Qorvo and Skyworks have already announced products. However, it seems that Qualcomm’s solution may be more integrated than its competitors’ and could prove valuable in space-constrained smartphone designs.
Both of Qualcomm’s new 5G NR modules and their derivatives are already sampling to customers and are expected to be in smartphones in the first half of 2019. Because Qualcomm is already sampling, it is giving its customers, the OEMs, more time to perfect their designs and dial-in performance. This includes extensive network testing with operators that are planning to light up their 5G NR networks in the next year and beyond. Qualcomm is well-positioned here, and I look forward to seeing what happens next.