Chipmaker Qualcomm concluded its annual Snapdragon Tech Summit 2019 in Hawaii, and there are some key takeaways from the event. The company announced flagship Snapdragon 865 SoC, which we will be seeing on a lot of premium smartphones in 2020. But despite 5G being the buzzword for a couple of years now, the flagship Snapdragon SoC does not come with an integrated 5G modem. Instead, Qualcomm went ahead with one on the mid-tier Snapdragon 765 and Snapdragon 765G chipsets. I think the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 SoC is a masterstroke that will help in 5G adoption in 2020. Here’s why.

Let’s talk 5G

When someone says the term ‘5G’, a lot of us instantly relate it with insanely fast mobile download speeds. Whether it is streaming 4K videos or downloading GB’s of data in just a few seconds, 5G is crazy fast. But 5G network isn’t widespread.

In the US, you’ll get 5G in New York City, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Denver, Dallas, and Chicago. But these are some select 20 cities. In China, you will get 5G in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou. 5G is also present in Germany, London, and South Korea.

India is expected to get 5G smartphones as early as next year, but 5G network isn’t expected anytime soon. In fact, according to a recent report, Indian telos may delay 5G rollout by up to five years. “Exorbitant base prices, insufficient spectrum, and unavailability of news bands” are some of the reasons for the delay. But that doesn’t stop chipmakers like Qualcomm and MediaTek from introducing 5G chipsets.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 could help 5G adoption

After watching the Snapdragon 865 announcement keynote, I was left wondering why Qualcomm would not integrate 5G modem in the chip. A mid-range chipset, Snapdragon 765, gets the 5G push, while a flagship doesn’t. Counterpoint Research analyst Neil Shah highlights a few possible factors behind Qualcomm’s decision.

As per Shah, at least 50 percent of smartphones to be sold in China in 2020 will be 5G enabled. And these would be under $400 (roughly Rs 30,000) segment. If we look at the market share in China, it is dominated by Huawei with about 37 percent share. It is followed by Vivo and Oppo with 18.6 and 18.7 percent shares respectively. Then comes Xiaomi with 11.9 percent share.

Now, if we look at the Oppo Reno-series or Vivo V-series, they are powered by Snapdragon 700-series chipsets. The successors to current smartphones will likely come with Snapdragon 765 SoC, which will bring 5G smartphones to masses at lower price points. Xiaomi is set to soon debut Redmi K30 5G smartphone, whereas Oppo Reno 3 series is also set to launch soon. Both will reportedly run on Snapdragon 765 SoC. Even Realme X50 is likely to launch soon with 5G chipset. These 5G phones could help in 5G penetration within China.

Mid-range price point is key

When we talk flagship smartphones like OnePlus 7T Pro, Samsung Galaxy Note 10, Galaxy S10, Pixel 4 XL and others, people expect top-of-the-line specifications. These include QHD+ display, multiple high-resolution cameras, big battery with fast charging, and more. Packing all these components also shoots up the price.

But in the case of mid-range smartphones, OEMs can go for an FHD+ display, and multiple cameras without compromising on overall experience. An integrated 5G modem within the chip will help companies save space on the board. They can instead focus on adding other components like a slightly bigger battery. A big battery is needed as 5G will consume more power. All this can be done under $400 price point, easily.

Snapdragon 765 supports both sub-6 and mmWave bands

While mmWave will be an ideal requirement to run 5G smoothly, the required spectrum may not be available in all countries. And if 5G has to scale up, support for both sub-6 and mmWave is required. And the Snapdragon X52 modem that is integrated in the Snapdragon 765 SoC does support both, along with TDD, FDD and DSS bands.

What’s more, there is support for SA and NSA modes as well. The SA mode uses 5G cells for both signaling and data transfer without the need of the existing LTE network. The NSA mode, on the other hand, relies on LTE bands for tasks like communication between cell towers and servers.

Competition from Huawei, Samsung, MediaTek

MediaTek has already revealed its Dimensity 1000 Chipset with integrated 5G modem. Meanwhile, even Samsung unveiled its Exynos 990 SoC that can be paired with Exynos Modem 5123 for 5G connectivity. Both MediaTek and Exynos chipsets support sub-6 and mmWave.

Huawei also has its Kirin 990 5G SoC with an integrated 5G modem. But it is a premium tier chipset that is present on flagship smartphones. Shah expects even Huawei to launch a mid-tier chipset, a successor to the Kirin 810, at MWC 2020. And it will likely come with integrated 5G modem. Or at least, it will have the ability to pair with Balong 5000 modem for 5G connectivity. So, Qualcomm needed to be prepared for it, and Snapdragon 765 hits that sweet spot.

Keeping all these factors in mind, the Snapdragon 765 SoC will play an important role in shaping 5G development and increasing adoption in 2020. At IFA 2019, Qualcomm also mentioned that it will bring 5G to Snapdragon 600-series, which could further help in bringing 5G smartphones under $200 (around Rs 15,000) range. I think 2020 will be an exciting year where the focus will shift to 5G phones.

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