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Qualcomm Leads in 5G Speeds

by Boris Metodiev | Aug 06, 2020

5G was off to a great start in the first year itself and the year 2020 is shaping up be the year of 5G. Qualcomm, the baseband market leader, has established itself as the early 5G market leader. Besides 5G market share gains, Qualcomm also made significant strides in recent Ookla speed test results in the US and UK:

  • As shown in two blogs by Qualcomm here and here, millimeter wave (mmW) 5G smartphones in general outperform 4G LTE devices in terms of data rates on the order of twenty times. The fastest devices use Qualcomm’s 5G modems and mmW RF antenna-in-package (AIP) modules.
  • Test results in the UK show that Qualcomm-equipped 5G smartphones offer the fastest data speeds in the sub-6 GHz bands as well.
  • The fastest smartphones overall, across 5G and 4G models in the US and UK, use Qualcomm solutions.

The results bolster the assertion that operators need both sub-6 GHz and mmW for their 5G networks, with mmW filling out high-density traffic areas, boosting 5G network capacity overall using smartphones and other user devices. The on-going Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated remote working and learning trends, emphasising the need for more capacity and data rates from 5G network operators. Unsurprisingly, 5G adoption around the world is accelerating, given 5G’s critical role in providing wireless capacity. Strategy Analytics projects that over 200 million 5G smartphones will ship this year, and that next year, more than 550 million will ship, making up 46 percent of all smartphones shipping in 2021.

As of July 31, 2020, only Qualcomm was shipping mmW-capable chipsets and mmW RF subsystems (mmW RF antenna-in-package or AIP modules) for 5G devices. Next year Huawei, Samsung, and MediaTek could introduce mmW cellular radio chipsets and mmWRF subsystems, but Qualcomm has a technical lead and at least an 18 month head start in market.

Our research suggests that 23 of the 185 shipping smartphone variants that support 5G include mmW support. All of these mmW phones use Qualcomm cellular radio chipsets and Qualcomm mmW RF components. Ten countries have launched 5G using millimeter wave as of July 2020, and many more will soon follow.

5G models by vendor

All of the fastest 5G phones in the tests used Qualcomm Snapdragon modem-RF systems. This means that the phones not only employed cellular radio chipsets from Qualcomm, but they also incorporated RF Front-end (RFFE) components from Qualcomm: By providing the complete cellular radio from the antenna to the processor, Qualcomm can tightly couple the functional design of different parts of the radio, optimizing the modem as a system. RFFE suppliers Skyworks, Qorvo, Broadcom and Murata have extensive experience, and provide low-cost, high-performance RF front-end components for smartphones as well, but Qualcomm has had remarkable success in the RF front end in the first two generations of 5G smartphones.

Qualcomm’s success in 5G and RFFE is already having a positive impact on its financials. Strategy Analytics estimates that Qualcomm shipped more 5G basebands in Q1 2020 than it did in all of 2019. Qualcomm has guided that its RFFE revenue will grow to $750 million in Q3 CY 2020.

So far, only Qualcomm has had the scale and expertise to provide successful system-level modem-to-antenna solutions for mobile phones. There is evidence that other cellular radio chipset providers may be moving in this direction, especially in China.

Qualcomm’s scale and its early success in mmW 5G and RF front-end coupled with the latest speed test results lead us to recommend that network operators should highlight smartphones that use Qualcomm chipsets and complete Snapdragon modem-RF systems to improve customer satisfaction, accelerate use of 5G networks and enhance 5G ROI. Handset manufacturers should evaluate multiple sources of radio components for 5G smartphones, and consider modem-to-antenna solutions such as Snapdragon modem-RF systems.

Our full 17-page complimentary report on this can be accessed here.

Note: Thanks to Sravan Kundojjala for drafting the original version of this blog.

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