Qualcomm Technologies is leading the charge to accelerate 5G deployments into 2019. As Mobile World Congress gets underway in Barcelona, the leading developer of LTE modems has announced an update to its 5G modem, as well a coordinated effort among more than 20 companies to support a 3GPP specification called Non-Standalone 5G New Radio. The company said Non-Standalone 5G NR will utilize the existing LTE radio and evolved packet core network as an anchor for mobility management and coverage while adding a new 5G radio access carrier to enable certain 5G use cases starting in 2019.
“There is great value in accelerating the timeline to commercialization, while maintaining the global scale through the proper standardization process in 3GPP,” said Cristiano Amon, EVP, Qualcomm Technologies, and president of Qualcomm CDMA Technologies.
“These accelerated decisions on key components of 5G New Radio standards will allow an earlier start on the development of the infrastructure and devices of tomorrow’s 5G deployments,” said Tom Keathley, senior vice president for wireless network architecture and design at AT&T.
Non-Standalone 5G NR will be an “intermediate milestone,” on the road to 5G, Qualcomm said. In the non-standalone implementation, the LTE network will continue to handle signaling, while some user applications will be handled by the 5G carrier. Network operators and hardware vendors hope this hybrid implementation will enable them to start monetizing 5G by 2019, one year before full-fledged 5G deployments are expected. It will also put a stake in the ground that should support a coordinated effort to finalize a true 5G standard.
Intel, which has already launched its own 5G modem, joins Qualcomm in supporting the intermediate standard. So do AT&T, Sprint, Ericsson, NTT DoCoMo, SK Telecom, Vodafone, British Telecom, Telstra, Korea Telecom, LG Uplus, KDDI, LG Electronics, Telia Company, Swisscom, TIM, Etisalat Group, Huawei, Vivo, ZTE and Deutsche Telekom, which owns a majority stake in T-Mobile US. Several major telecom companies have not announced support for the standard, including Verizon Wireless, Nokia and the Chinese wireless carriers.
Qualcomm said the companies that are on board with Non-Standalone 5G NR will support a work plan proposal for the first phase of the 5G NR specification at the upcoming 3GPP radio access network plenary meeting, which will begin March 6 in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
New 5G modem chipsets
Qualcomm has also added support for the sub-6 GHz spectrum bands to its Snapdragon X50 5G modem portfolio, which was launched last fall with support for the 28 GHz millimeter wave spectrum band. While U.S. carriers have said their first 5G deployments will be in the millimeter wave bands, some Asian operators are working in the sub-6 GHz bands.
5G NR and Non-Standalone 5G NR will both be supported by Qualcomm’s new modem chips. The company said it has a single-chip solution that can support 5G, Gigabit LTE, LTE, 3G and 2G.
“Mobile does not change abruptly. The cellular system has been so successful specifically because of the continuity between generations, even when they used fundamentally different radio technologies,” wrote Qualcomm’s Amon in a blog post. “No operator ever uprooted their existing network and replaced it with a new generation overnight. Multiple generations exist side-by-side, and make each other successful. Early 4G networks, for example, were viable because multi-mode 3G/4G devices were able to fall back to the mature 3G infrastructure. It took expertise in 3G to succeed in 4G.”
Now Qualcomm hopes its 4G expertise will drive success with the next generation of mobile technology. The company said commercial products integrating its new modems are expected to be available to support 5G NR trials and commercial network launches starting in 2019.
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