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Qualcomm spotlights its big bet on 5G at Mobile World Congress

Qualcomm spotlights its big bet on 5G at Mobile World Congress
Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon speaks Monday at the opening of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. (Getty Images)

Qualcomm fired off a barrage of news about its latest 5G technologies on Monday as the annual Mobile World Congress trade show opened in Barcelona – highlighting the big bet that the San Diego company is making on fifth-generation wireless networks.

The company’s latest technologies are aimed not only at smartphones but also connected cars, always connected laptops, fixed wireless home broadband, robots, small cells for businesses, augmented reality and virtual reality gear.

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Qualcomm’s announcements highlight what’s different about 5G, which promises to deliver faster speeds, imperceptible transmission delays and high reliability to mobile networks.

While 3G and 4G technologies primarily connected smartphones, 5G neworks are expected to wirelessly connect a lot more – from cars to computers to automated factories to smart cities infrastructure.

5G networks aren’t up and running yet, but they’re expected to begin rolling out later this year in the U.S., Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia and China. Qualcomm says its latest 5G modem chip can deliver peak download speeds of 7 gigabits per second – which is on par with fiber optic lines.

As with most new technologies, there is plenty of skepticism about whether 5G is actually ready for prime time in 2019.

But Qualcomm and other proponents believe 5G can gain at least a foothold this year with consumers.

About 20 mobile operators are expected to light up 5G networks by year end. Qualcomm said more than 20 devices makers are planning 5G products using its chips. Samsung, OnePlus, LG, Xiaomi and others have announced 5G smartphones coming this year.

At Mobile World Congress on Monday, Qualcomm unveiled plans to integrate its 5G cellular modems into a complete system on a chip – which includes applications, graphics, digital signal and other processors mashed together on one piece of silicon.

Today, Qualcomm’s 5G cellular modems are a standalone chips. Integrating them with the applications/graphics processors – which is the way most 4G smartphones are built -- will help usher 5G handsets into the mainstream, according to the company.

The 5G system on a chip will begin testing with smartphone makers this summer and is forecast to show up in devices in the first half of next year.

“The integration of our breakthrough 5G multimode modem and application processing technologies into a single system on a chip is a major step in making 5G more widely available across regions and (price) tiers,” said Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm’s president.

For personal computers, Qualcomm launched a 5G platform that it says can deliver fiber-optic like download speeds wirelessly to laptops while providing multi-day battery life.

Lenovo expects to release the first personal computer based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon’s 5G modem in early 2020.

For vehicles, Qualcomm is launching 5G connectivity, as well as two new features that will be part of both its 4G and 5G offerings to auto makers.

The features include technology that allows cars to communicate directly with each other on the road -- as well as to ping stoplights and other smart cities infrastructure to improve traffic flow.

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Called Cellular-Vehicle-to-Everything, the technology can alert drivers of motorists’ behavior around them. It will be integrated into Qualcomm’s Snapdragon automotive chips with both 4G and 5G connectivity and could appear in cars by 2021.

In addition, the company’s 5G automotive platform will support dual wireless plans for vehicles. That allows automakers to monitor performance/maintenance on one plan, while giving car owners the ability to link the vehicle to their own wireless plan separately for infotainment services, such as Android apps or in-vehicle movie steaming.

“Consumers can bring in their own subscription and whatever third party service they want to pay for,” said Nakul Duggal, a senior vice president for Qualcomm.

The San Diego company also unveiled its latest generation of Wi-Fi chips for smartphones and cars -- known at Wi-Fi 6 -- that boost peak speeds to 1.8 gigabits per second.

Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi 6 chips, which also include the latest Bluetooth technology, means it’s going head-to-head with Broadcom, the leader in the Wi-Fi chip market. Broadcom attempted a hostile takeover of Qualcomm last year, which was blocked by the Trump administration.

Other Qualcomm news from Mobile World Congress includes:

  • A new reference design to help manufacturers develop 5G fixed wireless broadband devices, which Internet Service Providers can use to deliver faster speeds to homes over the last mile where fiber optic or cable lines are too expense to install. A research partnership with Bosch to refine 5G applications for the Industrial Internet of Things market.
  • Specifically designed hardware, software and design tools to help manufacturers and developers build the next generation of advanced consumer and industrial robots. The platform includes computer vision, artificial intelligence, security and connectivity.
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