Qualcomm may have just announced a key component in next year’s OnePlus 7: tiny antenna modules that fit new “millimeter wave” 5G frequencies into phones.
I’m mentioning the OnePlus 7 because OnePlus CEO Pete Lau told me in Shanghai recently that his company is committed to being in the first round of 5G phones.
The super-high-speed varieties of 5G will rely on millimeter wave, a type of frequency that hasn’t been used in mobile devices before because it’s short range, doesn’t penetrate walls well, and (until now) required complex antenna arrays. Qualcomm’s breakthrough, announced today, is to create mmWave antennas that are “shorter than the tip of your finger and about a quarter of the width,” said Sherif Hanna, staff manager for technical marketing at Qualcomm.
The modules’ tiny size means that four can be placed on a typical smartphone. That’s important because “you’re holding it wrong” becomes a big deal with mmWave, which can be blocked by your hand. With four modules, you probably won’t be covering one of them.
The new modules cover up to 800MHz of frequencies in the 26, 28 and 37GHz bands. Qualcomm is also announcing 5G modules for bands between 3.3GHz and 5GHz, which are not in the short-term plan for the US but are part of other countries’ strategies.
Most importantly for consumers, this announcement means that the industry is on track to deliver those 5G phones in early 2019, as promised. Qualcomm says the modules are already in phone makers’ hands.
“Verizon and AT&T bet that Qualcomm would eventually figure this out, and so they planned their networks around it,” Hanna said.
Will 5G Kill Your Battery?
The mmWave modules will go in the first wave of 5G phones, which will have a Snapdragon chipset and a separate, discrete 5G X50 modem, Hanna said. While 5G will be folded into future Snapdragons, that’s going to come too late for the first wave of phones, which Sprint and T-Mobile have promised are coming early next year.
That raises the spectre of short battery life, a big problem we saw in the first 4G phones. Those phones, like the HTC Thunderbolt, sucked down power because they had to keep both their 3G and 4G modems alive all the time.
Hanna said the situation with 5G isn’t going to be as bad as it was with 4G, but “it’s a 1.0 technology, and we will have teething pains.”
“If you’re in the vicinity of a 5G small cell with mmWave, in all likelihood the network would schedule all of your data transmission on the 5G connection,” he said. “4G would be used for the control channel, but the amount of power that is used for the control channel is a fraction of what would be used for data.”