OAKLAND, Calif. — Qualcomm announced its fifth-generation LTE modem, a Category 10 chip with global carrier aggregation, and second-generation RF360 envelope tracker. The Gobi 9x45 modem is based on 20 nm technology.
“The main new features, as compared to 9x35, is downlink increased from 300 to 450 Mbit/s, and uplink is the first major upload increase to 100 Mbit/s,” Peter Carson, senior director of marketing for Gobi, told EE Times. “This is the first chip that can fully utilize all 60 MHz in aggregated bandwidth in downlink and 40 MHz in uplink.”
The 9x45 modem supports 3x carrier aggregation in downlink and 2x in uplink, as well as all major cellular standards. Qualcomm expects up to two times faster upload speeds and up to 1.5 times faster peak download speeds compared to Cat 6 devices, as well as improved application response times and connectivity.
“Being able to aggregate unpaired and paired frequency bands simultaneously is increasingly a requirement in China and Europe, where carriers increasingly have that band of spectrum or are going to get it,” Carson said, adding that FDD and TDD aggregation will become more commonplace. “As LTE roaming agreements increase around the world, it really sets the bar for the number of bands you need.”
Although Qualcomm didn’t provide specific power consumption specs for its new modem, Carson said the company has decreased power consumption by 40% compared to its 9x25 modem, using 20 MHz of carrier aggregation.
At the same time, Carson said the desire for sleeker designs and improved battery life will drive uptake of its envelope tracker. The QFE3100 is optimized for a 30% smaller board with 5% power improvement over the previous generation.
“The biggest challenge in being the biggest player in LTE is the front-end capacity; you want to do one design that you can utilize in any market with LTE. Early adopters will race to markets with maybe regional-specific designs. Very soon after, you start to see those products refreshed for global markets with more LTE bands supported. You can only do that when you have single-chip global platform.”
Carson said Qualcomm is the only company with a Cat 10 chip made in a 20 nm process, noting it was the first to launch a Cat 6 handset in the Samsung Galaxy S5 “when most competitors were struggling to get Cat 6 to work.”
Will Strauss, president of market watcher Forward Concepts, in Tempe, Ariz., questioned the timing of Cat 10. “Of course, 3xCA and even 2xCA have to be in cooperation with the carrier, but I've seen no strong move by Verizon or AT&T in that regard, so it may be feasible, but not yet practical,” Strauss told EE Times.
"The Chinese cellphone makers like ZTE and Huawei want to move more into Europe and the U.S., but they are content to push 4G/3G phones there first," Strauss said. "They will begin to meet the Western demand for 2xCA maybe late next year. Beyond that, 5G is really destined for 2017 or later," he added.
Still, carriers are “racing” to be the first with Cat 9 deployment, which is available under the 9x45 modem and will be followed by Cat 10 TDD. Carson said he expects Korean and Chinese OEMs to develop and deploy first, because those countries already work with multiple bands.
Cat 10 is “expanding rapidly overseas by designing for all the world's bands and modes. We’re seeing economic benefits in terms of spreading LTE around the world and getting more adoption in emerging markets, enabled by low-end China solutions,” said Carson.
Strauss said he hasn't seen Chinese carriers angle toward 5G, as many are still rolling out 4G. Instead, cellphone makers such as ZTE and Huawei that want to move into Europe and the US are content to push 4G/3G in those regions first.
Qualcomm "will begin to meet the Western demand for 2xCA maybe late next year. Beyond that, 5G is really destined for 2017 or later," Strauss told us.
Qualcomm and Ericsson completed inter-company interoperability testing of LTE Cat 9 carrier aggregation this week. Both products are currently sampling and are anticipated to be commercially available in 2015.
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times