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Will Qualcomm Antenna-Beamformer Modules Jumpstart 5G Millimeter Wave in Smartphones?

by Chris Taylor | Jul 24, 2018

Qualcomm Technologies (QTI) just intensified its efforts to put 5G millimeter wave radios in wireless phones in 2019 with the announcement of the QTM052 family of beamforming RF modules.  Qualcomm would be the first to field mmWave for smartphones in commercial volumes, and with these modules, Qualcomm hopes to spur the market by making the addition of mmWave in smartphones as easy as possible for OEMs.

Qualcomm also announced a family of sub-6 GHz 5G RF front-end modules to go with the QTM052.  Together with the company’s X50 baseband processors, the new modules would provide a complete 5G radio solution for the most common 5G bands.

Studies show that consumers and OEMs want the speed and new services that 5G will provide, however:

  • Without mmWave spectrum, many operators are struggling to find the 100 MHz of carrier bandwidth needed to offer 5G.
  • While interested in mmWave spectrum, concerns about mmWave propagation, radio cost, and the difficulty of implementing mmWave in phones have put most of the industry focus on new bands around 3.5 GHz for 5G.

With the announcement, Qualcomm claims to offer small, drop-in modules for mmWave that fit along the edges and on the face and rear of a typical smartphone with no compromise in form factor.  By offering a complete chipset solution that supports sub-6 GHz 5G with optional modules for mmWave, Qualcomm has made it easier for OEMs to develop 5G smartphones with essentially the same design with or without mmWave.

Qualcomm has not announced many technical details for the QTM052 mmWave modules, but a closer look suggests that Qualcomm had to overcome some significant challenges, and these may have ramifications for competitors:

  • With only eight antenna emitters per module in early versions, RF power emitted per element exceeds what CMOS can easily provide, potentially raising design and fabrication cost.
  • In the mmWave, the need to minimize signal losses, noise figure, and maximize efficiency mean tight co-design and integration of the RF transceiver, beamformer and antenna array.  Qualcomm worked with TDK-EPC and the RF 360 JV for this effort.
  • Qualcomm’s QTM052 could push Qualcomm’s chipset competitors to work even more closely with PA-FEM suppliers Skyworks, Qorvo, and Broadcom to come up with competing solutions.

The jury is still out on the impact mmWave will have in smartphones.  Strategy Analytics does not have a pony in this race, but it is clear that Qualcomm wants 5G mmWave to succeed, and has put quite a bit of money and effort into it.

For more on this topic, please see the Insight report Qualcomm Antenna-Beamformer Accelerates 5G mmWave Smartphones.

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