Qualcomm’s next 5G RF module is sized for tomorrow’s phones

5G cellular connectivity isn't an if, but a when. The next generation of mobile wireless promises much higher peak download speeds than today's LTE deployments, but to get there, carriers will need to deploy ample base stations covering the 28-GHz band, more commonly known as mmWave. mmWave signals are short-ranged, directional, and easily attenuated, so it's difficult to maintain a consistent connection with a mobile device using that spectrum. Despite those challenges, mmWave is a holy grail of sorts for 5G because bandwidth in that spectrum is abundant and can be used to carry lots of data quickly.

Counter-clockwise: the QTM052 mmWave module, the Snapdragon X50 modem, and a U.S. penny

Qualcomm thinks it has an answer to the problems of mobile mmWave with its QTM052 family of antenna modules. The company says it's miniaturized the components of each 5G antenna and RF front-end into a single tiny integrated package. Despite the fact that each of these modules has to use multiple phased antennas in concert to perform the beam-forming, beam-steering, and beam-tracking required for practical communications in the 28-GHz band, each QTM052 is small enough to fit on the first segment of an index finger.

That small size means the QTM052 module can go in the side bezel of a smartphone, making 28-GHz-band 5G transmission practical in today's wafer-like handsets. While Qualcomm has demonstrated a working 28-GHz-band antenna in the past, the company says that unit was still too large to be useful for the kinds of devices phone makers will want to be making as 5G rolls out in the 2019-to-2020 time frame.

Up to four QTM052 modules can go into a 5G phone alongside Qualcomm's Snapdragon X50 5G NR modem. The X50 conducts the entire mmWave orchestra by constantly tracking the signal strength of each beam available to the QTM052s and picking the strongest one for communication. In the event the modem's preferred beam is blocked, Qualcomm says the X50 can quickly pick from alternate signals available to it and seamlessly continue transmitting. Environmental obstacles aside, using multiple QTM052 modules in a device could mean that if a user blocks one or more transceivers with their hand, at least one other module will still have a clear path to the base station.

To drive home the point of just how important the QTM052 is to the mobile 5G future, Qualcomm pointed out that Intel's concept 5G PC, shown at MWC earlier this year, relied on two chunky fold-out kickstands in order to house its 5G modules. It's worth remembering that Intel's 5G concept isn't representative of production devices, but the blue team also hasn't shown advances similar to Qualcomm's in 5G RF modules just yet. Instead, the company is focusing more on 5G infrastructure and experience its 5G technologies might provide to users.

mmWave is just one half of 5G connectivity, in any case. Qualcomm itself notes that 28 GHz signals will be most commonly found in urban and indoor environments. For broader 5G coverage in the hills and dales, handset makers will need to integrate radios that talk in the sub-6-GHz bands. Qualcomm's QPM5650, QPM5651, QDM5650, and QDM5652 modules will handle that lower-frequency grunt work in future devices.

Each QPM module has an integrated 5G NR-compatible power-amp, low-noise amp (LNA), switch, and filtering subsystem inside, while the QDM5650 and QDM5652 have integrated LNAs and switches for diversity and MIMO. Qualcomm says both families of module have integrated sounding reference signal, or SRS, switching on board to help support the “massive MIMO” required of 5G NR devices.

The QTM052 mmWave antenna module and the QPM56xx RF modules are sampling to Qualcomm's customers now.

Comments closed
    • moose17145
    • 1 year ago

    [quote<]Environmental obstacles aside, using multiple QTM052 modules in a device could mean that if a user blocks one or more transceivers with their hand, at least one other module will still have a clear path to the base station.[/quote<] How much do you wanna bet that Apple will make their new phone using only ONE of these, and when you hold it, it loses all reception and once again we will be told that "we are holding it wrong"? But I mean on the bright side, it will be the absolute thinnest iPhone yet! Seriously though... if there is supposed to be FOUR of those things in a phone, that tells me that (at this stage), this technology is unlikely to mix well with the whole "make it as thin as possible" fad that is happening. Which I honestly see as a very good thing.

    • oldog
    • 1 year ago

    Viewing the comments I guess I have a different take on this tech. I believe the 5G future is a single data plan for all your devices. This would cover your home usage and phone usage (one data cap to rule them all). This portability would break the wired monopoly of home internet providers.

    It could also generate savings to many customers by not requiring them to have separate data plans for land vs. mobile devices.

    I suspect without any special knowledge that this has been the thinking at Verizon for some time. I have always wondered why after a huge monetary outlay for FIOS, Verizon turned around and sold it off. This seems to be the most likely reason.

      • Goty
      • 1 year ago

      I think that should be the aim of this technology as well. Given the high reflectivity of outdoor building materials and high attenuation when penetrating those same materials, it’s supposedly easy to blanked outdoor urban areas with the signal without penetrating to the interior. Interior rebroadcast at reasonable powers with existing technologies would allow for indoor coverage at reasonable speeds and could make this idea a reality.

    • chuckula
    • 1 year ago

    While I normally love to jump all over Apple, given what 5G actually entails in the real-world I’m not really going to complain about them slow-rolling 5G updates for the iPhone.

    This stuff looks like technology that’s really great for doing a demo after all the infrastructure has been put in place, but not really a big practical improvement for most people in the near term.

    • Mr Bill
    • 1 year ago

    Wireless communication “at your fingertips”!

    • gmskking
    • 1 year ago

    More like cmWave.

    • nerdrage
    • 1 year ago

    [quote<]The next generation of mobile wireless promises much higher peak download speeds than today's LTE deployments[/quote<] Honest question here: I can already stream 1080 video smoothly via my LTE connection. What mobile application requires or can substantially benefit from more bandwidth than that? The only thing I can think of is 4K video - but as others have already mentioned, data caps won't allow that. Not to mention that the small screens on mobile devices won't show much of an appreciable benefit. [quote<]mmWave signals are short-ranged, directional, and easily attenuated, so it's difficult to maintain a consistent connection with a mobile device using that spectrum.[/quote<] Sounds like the exact opposite of what mobile devices need. Color me Krogoth'd.

      • jihadjoe
      • 1 year ago

      It means the same radios can now serve more people. The faster you finish your download, the sooner your time on the channel finishes and it can hop to someone else’s device.

      • dragontamer5788
      • 1 year ago

      [quote<]The only thing I can think of is 4K video - but as others have already mentioned, data caps won't allow that[/quote<] Those data-caps can be lifted if the phones and cell-towers get faster. I don't like the idea of streaming video games, but... well... streaming video games, or other highly-interactive games that require bandwidth... but more importantly... latency and QoS. If you've ever done VOIP over 4G, you know that latency and jitter are absolutely terrible at the moment. Streaming is very good with 4G, but increasing interactivity is going to be a major benefit as we move forward.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 1 year ago

        That’s basically the same thing, though.

        “All I can think of streaming”
        “Yeah, well, what about STREAMING???”

      • liquidsquid
      • 1 year ago

      This is to squeeze even more people on a single tower. The real question then becomes, what sort of technology is connecting the tower to the backbone of the Internet? I doubt it can handle the load directly of multiple 5G users all trying to get full bandwidth at the same time. I would bet you good money that the weak link of the connection to the rest of the world will not be upgraded for many years to come.

        • Kraaketaer
        • 1 year ago

        That doesn’t quite add up, as the short range and line-of-sight requirements of mmwave will require a massive increase in the number of base stations in densely populated areas to have any sort of effect. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if these signals struggled to reach the ground from tall towers used today, let alone work well in narrow streets or pigeon-filled plazas. Or if it’s raining. Or if you walk around a street corner. And so on.

        Personally, I think this whole concept sounds a bit dumb. Current client-side 4G modems are fast enough for anything you can feasibly do over a wireless connection as long as they have sufficient signal and the base station has sufficient bandwidth. Increasing base station-side bandwidth and the number of high-bandwidth base stations with current technology should be enough to significantly improve connection speeds as long as signal congestion can be avoided. And sure, it would be nice to stream games over 5g the couple of times a year I would be in a setting where that would be enjoyable, but considering that wired game streaming is crap and will be for years to come, wireless is going to be worse no matter what you do. I get that a portion of this technologically wonky approach is exactly to minimize congestion in areas with high user density (by “race-to-finish” approaches, mainly, but also increasing total available bandwidth), but that requires the fall-back connections to be equally robust and hand-offs to be instantaneous for this not to be absolutely terrible for the user experience.

          • Usacomp2k3
          • 1 year ago

          I agree completely. This makes no sense for mobile. Maybe to replace fixed-wireless at the home/SMB level with roof-mounted antenna.
          I want more range or more density/tower in a 5G design, not more bandwidth at the expense of range.

      • owmcyehs
      • 1 year ago

      It’s a future tech so consider what it may enable in the future:
      [list<] [*<] High definition low latency realtime streaming. Low latency means the compression algorithm cannot use future frames to aid compression of the current frame. [/*<][*<] Server side augmented reality: On device camera -> Server -> Device -> Screen. Likely to be more power efficient than processing on device. [/*<][*<] Multi Device Remote Expert augmented reality: Multiple devices capturing multiple camera angles all streaming to a central location. Processed into a stabilised 3D scene which an Engineer or Doctor is annotating in real time and streaming back to the on-location people. [/*<][*<] Autonomous Vehicles: Bidirectional transfer of LIDAR pointcloud / video. Neartime updates of road conditions based on data other vehicles are capturing. [/*<][*<] Wired replacement: Portable site office with LAN like connectivity [/*<] [/list<] Today's problems which 5G may solve: [list<] [*<] Mobile congestion at events. 28GHz should allow better device density than WiFi and much better density than 4G. [/*<][*<] Replace congested WiFi mesh at mine sites / construction sites. [/*<] [/list<]

    • Goty
    • 1 year ago

    Oh, look; one more thing to take real estate from the battery…

      • DancinJack
      • 1 year ago

      Do you think phones don’t have modems and antennae right now or something?

        • Goty
        • 1 year ago

        Notice I said one [i<]more[/i<] thing. This doesn't replace an existing component. Literally from the article: [quote<]Up to four QTM052 modules can go into a 5G phone alongside Qualcomm's Snapdragon X50 5G NR modem.[/quote<]

        • moose17145
        • 1 year ago

        You must not remember how power hungry early 4G was…. Heck even early 3G was power hungry…

        Every time there is a new “G”, the first Generation or two of chips that support it tend to be extremely power hungry and utterly decimate battery life when in use.

        Given manufacturers current trends of insisting on making it thinner at all costs, this does not bode well for the battery life of many early phones likely to support this.

          • Peldor
          • 1 year ago

          OTOH, a “normal” battery now is about twice as big as when 4G phones debuted (though the screens are bigger too). The HTC Thunderbolt (Verizon’s first 4G device) had a meager 1400 mAh battery.

      • Sargent Duck
      • 1 year ago

      Nah, they’ll just make the battery thinner.

    • GodsMadClown
    • 1 year ago

    Wait, I lost track. Which one is the penny again?

      • Wirko
      • 1 year ago

      I can tell you which two aren’t.

    • strangerguy
    • 1 year ago

    Wow, I can’t wait to use one of those in my next new phone so I can fully utilise my massive 4GB data cap.

      • biffzinker
      • 1 year ago

      And only 3-4 seconds to download 4 GB.

      Correction: Demonstration of up to 20 Gigabits/s.
      1.4 Gbit/s median speed for a configuration using 28 GHz millimeter waves.

      • Peter.Parker
      • 1 year ago

      Remember that old Bill Gates quote?
      “There is no reason anyone should need more than 4GB of data access”, or something like that.

        • Mr Bill
        • 1 year ago

        ‘Why would anyone need a minimum wage of over $6.40/hr’? Or something like that.

      • kvndoom
      • 1 year ago

      It’s like having 1 hour of FIOS and 29.9 days of dial-up!

      • highlandr
      • 1 year ago

      “No, there’s no capping of data! We will gladly sell you an extra 1GB for $15 for as many times as you need it!” — US cell providers

      • Acidicheartburn
      • 1 year ago

      I share 2GB with three family members, consider yourself lucky.

        • biffzinker
        • 1 year ago

        Should check up on if your carrier bumped your data cap. Last I knew with AT&T my data cap was 3GB but found out recently it’s been doubled to 6GB. Could be the reason for the price hike I seen for my monthly bill.

      • moose17145
      • 1 year ago

      Dang… reading some of your guys comments about your data capped phones… Ooof….

      Glad I am on Sprint with an Unlimited data connection.

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