Qualcomm today announced that at least eighteen operators have confirmed their intention to conduct "live, over-the-air mobile 5G NR trials" using Qualcomm's Snapdragon X50 modem during 2018. Similar to the recent joint announcement from Nokia and Qualcomm the trials will be based on the 3GPP Release 15 5G NR standard and will employ the company's smartphone reference design – which looks to emulate the use of the technology within a form factor that is directly comparable to a smartphone.
The number of operators announced today highlights a fairly firm commitment by the industry to using the company's 5G-designed modem for mobiles while also highlighting how Qualcomm is further establishing its position as a leader in not just the development of 5G technology, but also its deployment. Especially considering this represents the first time standard-compliant trials using a 5G modem chipset have been announced in general. As to be expected from an announcement like this, the operators span the breadth of the globe with a number of prominent players from each region listed. For example, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon are listed as North American operators, while European counterparts include the likes of BT, Orange, Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile, and TIM. Likewise, Chinese operators include China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom, with the rest of the confirmed operator list padded out by KDDI, KT, LG U+, NTT DoCoMo, Singtel, SK Telecom, Telstra, and the Vodafone Group.
While this announcement represents the first time the Snapdragon X50 modem will be properly used for 5G NR testing by operators, the Snapdragon X50 modem itself was the first 5G modem for smartphones ever announced having been formally introduced late last year. Adding to that, it was also the first announced single-chip 5G modem to establish a successful 5G connection (again, announced late last year). So it does make sense that as part of the readying of 5G technology for the mobile market, operators would opt for the use of Snapdragon X50 modem for their 5G trials. Speaking of the end user deployment, it is still largely unknown when the X50 will debut on a device. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC (due to debut on a number of flagship devices this year) will come equipped with a Snapdragon X20 LTE modem and therefore the further afield expectation is the X50 will be included on the next-generation Snapdragon SoC – due for commercial release in 2019. An expectation further backed up by Qualcomm's general assertion that 5G-enabled smartphones will arrive to market in 2019.