5G takes first hesitant steps at Snapdragon Summit

Despite limited demonstrations at a Qualcomm event, 5G has taken a step closer.
6 December 2018

President of Qualcomm, Cristiano Amon. Source: Lluis Gene / AFP

The Qualcomm Snapdragon Tech Summit that’s wrapping up in Hawaii today has given us several clues as to 5G’s progress, more idea of its potential, and also an idea of some of the stumbling blocks that the telecommunications industry faces as it looks to roll out the new technology over the next few years.

The next Snapdragon chip, the Snapdragon 855, was presented to the assembled industry figures, journalists and commentators, by Cristiano Amon, the Qualcomm president. The new chip is destined, in all likelihood, to be used to power next-gen 5G phones, thanks in part to its 7nm manufacturing process, which lowers power consumption and increases speed in mobile devices using it.

Businesses wishing to take advantage of the new platform next year, however, would do well to consider the platform they offer staff: while many Android phones are expected to begin to emerge next year, Apple intends to use Intel 5G modems in its models, which aren’t likely to appear until 2020.

In addition to potential 5G use, the new Snapdragon 855 also offers a dedicated image processor, which can be used for intelligent image processing and recognition: “It will recognize who and what you’re capturing,” according to the head of the Snapdragon project, Alex Katouzian.

But a demonstration of the potential offered by 5G showed the attendees some of the issues that surround the technology’s roll-out. Assembled jointly by Verizon and AT&T, the 5G network intended to show off the network’s lightning speed and low latency was able only to utilize 100 MHz of radio spectrum, compared to between four and eight times that spread that’s earmarked for the tech.

As a result of the limitations of the network, assembled for the event by Eriksson, speeds of only 1.3 to 1.4 Mbps were achieved. 5G can utilize a broader spectrum of radio frequencies simultaneously, to reach much higher throughput.

Additionally, the handsets used were not available for attendees to test independently– nor was the wi-fi router that was claimed to be providing a 5G connection to the internet in a VR demo.

Depending on the locale, the eventual roll-out of 5G across the world may get under-par results, with potentially limited bandwidth available according to existing local use. Lab speeds may not, therefore, be reproducible.

Inseego’s 5G hotspot. Source: Inseego

Verizon used the event to showcase a 5G wi-fi hotspot which it says it will launch in 2019 but, likewise, this was not available for hands-on testing.

The hotspot is made by Inseego and uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 and the X50 5G modem. Compatible with Wi-Fi 6 (see this article for more), the device has “achieved more than 2 Gbps of speed and sub-10 milliseconds of latency in multiple component carrier aggregation (CA) scenarios,” – in closed-door tests – according to Inseego.

For businesses, the benefits of 5G are more likely to appear in IIoT, autonomous transport and as a powerful way of connecting, for instance, technology installations at the edge. Handsets offering high-speed data connections will likely find use in commercial AR and VR, such as in medicine and construction environments.

But as the events in Hawaii show, early adopters may well be disappointed if expectations are not realistic: we sense some teething problems.