Breaking 5G Barriers: Qualcomm’s Snapdragon x65 Speeds Through 10 Gbps

July 30, 2021 by Adrian Gibbons

Breaking the 10 Gbps ‘barrier’ might be the point where mobile broadband starts to match the functionality of fiber services. Qualcomm’s modem-RF system recently achieved standalone 10 Gbps.

After proving 10 Gbps speeds with dual connectivity (aggregate sub-6 GHz and mmWave) at 2021 MWC Barcelona, Qualcomm, using its newest 4th-gen Snapdragon X65 Modem-RF System, is focusing on breaking the 10 Gbps 'barrier.' 

This week, it appears it has finally broken the 10 Gbps barrier with a standalone (SA) 5G 200-MHz carrier bandwidth mmWave setup.  


The Modem-RF System is powered by the Snapdragon X65.

The Modem-RF System is powered by the Snapdragon X65. Image used courtesy of Qualcomm


This achievement raised some important questions about what Qualcomm has been up to in 2021. What are some of the salient technological details surrounding its newest generation of the Snapdragon X65? 

Today, this article will explore these questions and then look at who else is making moves in 5G deployments. 


A Six Month Journey with Qualcomm & 5G

Qualcomm has been busy over the past six months. From the launch of its 4th generation Snapdragon X65 to successive breakthroughs surrounding the 10 Gbps barrier.

Below, is a brief timeline of Qualcomm movements over the past six months:


A ‘half-time’ timeline of 2021 for the X65 Snapdragon.

A ‘half-time’ timeline of 2021 for the X65 Snapdragon. Image used courtesy of Qualcomm


Six months is not a great deal of time, especially in the world of technology and electronics. To say that Qualcomm achieved all of this in that short of a period is slightly unnerving. Countless design and project management hours in the preceding year undoubtedly contributed to pushing these goals towards breakthroughs.

One central technology fueling these innovations is the Snapdragon x65; however, what's in the X65 modem-to-RF system fueling these achievements? Though Qualcomm's details on its technologies are often high-level only, looking at the base technologies can often reveal interesting details.


X65's Key Technologies: Wideband Envelope Tracker

Diving into the key technologies that make up Qualcomm's recent achievements, there are two that stand out. The first is the 7th generation wideband envelope tracker QET7100, which is said to overcome significant power woes with a 30% better power efficiency concerning a supply-linearized power amplifier (PA). 

When looking back at the basics of this technology, dating back to a precursor technology in 1952, it's possible to see a closed-loop feedback system is employed to reduce wasted power in the PA.


Basic technology block for envelope tracking.

Basic technology block for envelope tracking. Image used courtesy of Qualcomm


In envelope tracking, the PA supply voltage is dynamically varied from the crest to the trough of the baseband signal. The result is significantly reduced waste heat.

Though envelope tracking is just one crucial technology, there is a second key technology at work in this system: an AI-enhanced signal boost. 


X65's Key Technologies: AI-enhanced Signal Boost

When dealing with frequencies in the GHz, impedance control and signal directivity become more critical. Qualcomm's second technology, AI-enhanced signal boost, is said to tune the antenna parameters dynamically in response to a user's grip interference.  


Dynamic impedance changes with respect to grip.

Dynamic impedance changes with respect to grip. Screenshot [video:34s] used courtesy of Qualcomm


Qualcomm's Snapdragon X65 antenna tuning supports the 0.7 GHz to 7 GHz (5G) bands. At the high end of the operating frequencies, a quarter-wavelength is ~10.7 mm. Considering those dimensions, refraction from human fingers could cause severe signal loss. 

The AI-enhanced signal boost claims it provides up to 30% improved context accuracy and additional power savings by detecting hand-grips in real-time. 

As Qualcomm aims to push further and faster with its 5G goals, its Snapdragon x65 technologies are a major driving force. However, even with these accomplishments, the field of 5G is booming with competition. 


Industry Achievements in 10 Gbps Throughput

Qualcomm is most certainly a forerunner in 5G technologies and cellular technology at large. It has had an impressive six months of progress working towards and eventually breaking the 10 Gbps barrier in mobile broadband communications. 

Another player in the field worth talking about is Nokia, working with Optus. They claim to have completed an aggregate 10 Gbps throughput in April 2021 using a non-standalone (NSA) 5G mmWave setup on the Nokia AirScale Radio platform. 

There's no doubt that the 5G field is hot, and right now, the push is on speed. Looking forward to the next few years of deployment, users can expect more than just speed as the underlying 5G technologies and applications mature.