Qualcomm just took a big leap in its long shuffle towards 5G. The company has conducted the first 5G test on a single-chip smartphone, and it’s released the reference design for the first 5G phone. The device will be out next year, and while it’s only for testing purposes, just the fact that someone somewhere can be testing a very real 5G phone is a huge leap forwards.
The big milestone test that Qualcomm has conducted is the first 5G data connection on a single 5G modem chipset for smartphones. The chipset in question is the Snapdragon x50, a modem Qualcomm announced last year.
The test took place in Qualcomm’s San Diego labs, and saw the device achieve gigabit speeds, using a number of 100MHz chunks of 28GHz spectrum. When the full spectrum of 5G frequencies is available, the chipset should be able to achieve speeds of around 5 gigabits, a whole order of magnitude faster than your home internet connection. The FTC, for the record, classifies high-speed broadband as 25Mbps, about 200 times slower than the 5 gigabits 5G should be able to achieve.
From here, Qualcomm’s roadmap aims for carriers to test 5G in 2018, with the first networks to go live in 2019. In order to help carriers test, Qualcomm has released a “reference design” smartphone for the first 5G device. It should let carriers test 5G tech in real-world scenarios, which is going to be vital for developing the technology. 5G relies on using wireless spectrum with a much higher frequency than cell networks do today. It means faster networks, but also new problems with signal and radio waves. At 28GHz, something simple like your hand can completely block the signal. For carriers and phone makers, testing 5G radios and antennas on a real phone that gets carried around and help by real humans is a very crucial step.