Qualcomm, the largest player in smartphone chips, plans to start shipping its first flagship Snapdragon processor with an integrated 5G modem in 2020. By integrating the modem in the SoC, the company could open the door for many more phone manufacturers to tap 5G technology, which is expected to be 10 to 100 times faster than current LTE networks.
Hoping to hold onto its lead in the smartphone market, Qualcomm introduced its first modem, the X50, for connecting to 5G networks while the standard was still under development in 2017. The company's current flagship Snapdragon 855 integrates its latest LTE modem, but the X50 modem is a standalone part, which takes over more space internally. Using two chips instead of one also adds to power consumption and cost.
Qualcomm solved part of the problem with its second-generation modem, the X55. The part is produced on the 7-nanometer node, while the X50 modem is based on 10-nanometer technology. The X55 modem combines 4G and 5G technology in the same chip, resulting in a smaller, faster, more energy efficient design that can handle a broader range of frequencies. But the X55 multimode modem is still a separate component.
The San Diego, California-based company's latest processor is designed to address some of the disadvantages of discrete modem chips. The modem's integration saves space, conserves power and could curb costs for phone manufacturers. The unnamed product, which was announced on Monday at the Mobile World Congress, will start shipping to early customers in the second quarter of 2019, the company said.
Qualcomm is also trying to repel rivals in modem chip market even as smartphones including Samsung's Galaxy Fold start using Qualcomm's X50. That includes Intel, which sells the LTE modem used in every Apple iPhone, and Mediatek, which is trying to muscle into higher end smartphones. Samsung and Huawei could drink some of Qualcomm's milkshake by dropping custom cellular chips in some of their own smartphones.
"The integration of our breakthrough 5G multimode modem and application processing technologies into a single SoC is a major step in making 5G more widely available across regions and tiers," said Christiano Amon, Qualcomm's president, in a statement. The company also sells the power amplifiers, switches and other components that surround the main modem. "Discrete modem or RF solutions are no longer sufficient," he said.