Qualcomm Guns for 5G Expansion With First NR-Light Modem-RF System

February 09, 2023 by Jake Hertz

A new Qualcomm modem system supports an optimized variant of 5G for mid-tier devices, like smartwatches and AR glasses.

As cellular connectivity becomes more universal and accessible, an explosion of cellular-based applications and devices has emerged. Now, technologies like 5G are pushing this boundary even further, with faster speeds and better performance.

Because different wireless applications have unique needs, developers are investigating different kinds of 5G connectivity, each optimized for parameters such as range, throughput, and power consumption.


A unified 5G platform that spans all use cases

A unified 5G platform that spans all use cases can simplify device security and management. Image courtesy of Qualcomm


This week, Qualcomm released a new modem-RF system the company claims is the world’s first to support 5G NR-Light, a device platform designed to bridge the gap between the extremes of 5G with mid-tier use cases. In this article, we’ll talk about 5G NR-Light, its benefits, and how Qualcomm’s new product aims to bring the platform to life.


What Is 5G NR-Light?

Most 5G-based applications are divided into one of three classifications: enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive IoT (mIoT), and mission-critical IoT. Each solution represents a different extreme in performance, battery life, and other important specifications. 


5G NR-Light versus other 5G variants

5G NR-Light versus other 5G variants. Image courtesy of Qualcomm


5G NR-Light (also known as RedCap) is a new device class that aims to bridge the capability and complexity gap between the extremes in 5G today. First introduced in the 5G standards 3GPP Release 17, 5G NR-Light aims to serve mid-tier use cases for 5G today by offering a well-balanced and optimized variant of 5G connectivity.  These use cases are meant to efficiently support 150 Mbps and 50 Mbps in the downlink and uplink, respectively. The reduced complexity of these devices leads to more cost-efficient devices, longer battery life, and a smaller device footprint.

The small device size, long battery life, and substantial throughput of NR-Light devices make it useful for many mobile consumer applications, such as high-end smartwatches, health monitors, and augmented reality glasses. 


Qualcomm’s Releases Snapdragon X35

This week, Qualcomm made headlines by releasing the Snapdragon X35 5G Modem-RF System, the industry’s first 5G NR-Light modem. The modem features up to two antennas and supports 1,000 Mbps peak upload speeds, 220 Mbps peak download speeds, and 20 MHz bandwidth (sub-6 GHz).

The Snapdragon X35

The Snapdragon X35 introduced 5G NR-Light to the industry. Image courtesy of Qualcomm


Qualcomm says the new modem is optimized to balance robust capability and low complexity, including features such as integrated RFIC and PMIC modules, as well as a streamlined architecture and high-level modem-RF integration. These features help the modem achieve a small form factor and high thermal efficiency, making it a suitable solution for connected products such as AR/VR glasses or smartwatches. 

Other features of the modem include support of dual-frequency GNSS (L1+L5), as well as advanced technologies such as Qualcomm’s QET5100 Envelope Tracking, Smart Transmit Technology, 5G PowerSave Gen 4, and 5G Ultra-Low Latency Suite.

With the release of the Snapdragon X35, Qualcomm also announced a variant called the Snapdragon X32 5G Modem-RF System, a modem-to-antenna solution designed to decrease the complexity and cost of NR-Light devices.