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19 December 2019

Qualcomm unveils high end 5G platform, still years away mass market

Qualcomm held its Technology Summit last week in Hawaii and introduced its latest 5G flagship product, the Snapdragon 865 Mobile Platform. After three years of development, the chipset made its debut alongside new models in the existing 7 Series Mobile Platform, and a new offering to support XR (extended reality).

The new platform pairs the flagship Snapdragon 865 applications processor with the X55 5G modem/RF system, supporting both sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave spectrum bands, in Non-Standalone or Standalone modes, and delivering peak speeds of 7.5Gbps (3Gbps upload). FDD and TDD modes are supported too, as well as legacy 2G/3G. The processor integrates the Kryo 585 CPU and new Adreno 650 GPU, both of which promise 25% better performance than their respective predecessors.

Also included is the Qualcomm Spectra 480 Image Signal Processor (ISP), which promises up to 2 gigapixels per second to enable new mobile photography and video functions; gaming to the quality of a desktop system is also pledged. The usage of AI allows semantic segmentation to improve the picture quality, or enables avatar-based video conferencing. The system can also run third party AI algorithms to support additional features.

Also supported on the 5G front are Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), which some operators, such as Verizon, plan to introduce to their networks next year, plus multi-SIM devices, WiFi 6 and Bluetooth audio experiences (via the Qualcomm FastConnect 6800 subsystem). Finally, the system-on-chip incorporates a new generation artificial intelligence (AI) engine and new Qualcomm Sensing Hub.

The chip vendor also unveiled the Snapdragon 765 and 765G, which combine the 5G Modem-RF System and fifth generation Qualcomm AI Engine but are targeted at lower-spec, lower cost devices than the 865.

The Snapdragon XR2 platform claims to be the first 5G-supported chip platform for extended reality (XR), though there is also a 4G version. Qualcomm believes the timing is right, since operators will start to deploy edge computing capabilities from next year, with XR gaming a key target application because the processing of extremely high quality visuals can be split between the headset and the edge node.

Two operators, KDDI of Japan and Deutsche Telecom , came on stage to discuss their own edge/XR plans. Devices using the XR2 platform are expected in the second half of next year, pushing into a market which is currently enabled mainly by WiFi. Snapdragon XR2 doubles the CPU and graphics processing performance of Qualcomm’s current top end XR chipset, plus claiming four times greater video bandwidth, six times higher resolution and an 11-fold improvement in AI. It can support seven concurrent cameras and a dedicated computer vision processor.

Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon said that last year, “we were talking about the 5G future”, but this year “we are talking about tremendous momentum happening across regions”. He said over 40 operators are offering commercial 5G services and 50 OEMs have 5G products, while 325 operators in 109 countries are investing in 5G. However, spectrum allocations remain different between regions and sometimes fragmented. Amon believes DSS will be a key accelerant in 2020, allowing operators to run LTE and 5G more efficiently together in Non-Standalone networks, sharing the same spectrum dynamically.