Qualcomm raised the bar once again with the announcement of world’s first gigabit download speed capable chip, the X16. The Snapdragon X16 slim modem, designed in 14 nm FinFET technology, is sampling now and is expected to be in commercial devices in 2H 2016. The X16 modem features a scalable architecture using hardware and software blocks or layers that can be easily removed to design lower-tier and less capable basebands: This new approach dramatically reduces development time and cost, allowing the chip to serve multiple requirements without massive redesign.
The X16 represents a 10x growth in LTE download speed in the span of six years. The X16 modem achieves 1 gigabit class speed by employing more antennas (4 x 4 DL MIMO), advanced signal processing (256-QAM) and 4x CA with only 60 MHz of spectrum. Strategy Analytics believes that the X16 is likely to further Qualcomm’s technology and market share leadership in basebands and is likely to provide at least 18-24 month lead over the competition. While the X16 is a slim modem, we expect Qualcomm to follow-up with an integrated baseband-applications processor SoC in 2017. This could further Qualcomm’s lead in apps processors.
Noting that many operators lack the licensed spectrum necessary to support 40 MHz and 60 MHz of aggregate bandwidth across the commonly used LTE bands, Qualcomm designed the X16 to support 256-QAM DL and carrier aggregation in the new 3.5 GHz bands and unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum as well. In general, more spectrum is available to operators in these higher bands than at the new bands around 450 MHz, 600 MHz and 700 MHz.
We believe the immediate value of the X16 is likely to be realized in limited markets in a few flagship devices and perhaps LTE routers as some of the features of this chip are ahead of network operator launch plans. However, given the accelerated pace of advanced LTE network launches, we believe that the X16 will stand out as a key differentiator for Qualcomm for some time to come. A detailed report for clients of Strategy Analytics is available here.