Qualcomm tees up 5G NR mmWave prototype for smartphone form factor

Qualcomm Technologies announced it will have a 5G New Radio (NR) millimeter-wave (mmWave) prototype system based on the 5G NR Release 15 specifications being developed by 3GPP.

The prototype system, which operates in the spectrum bands above 24 GHz, follows on Qualcomm’s existing 5G NR sub-6 GHz prototype system operating at mid-band spectrum from 3.3 GHz to 5.0 GHz, which was used to demonstrate the company’s first 5G NR connection back in February.

Qualcomm will demonstrate the mmWave and sub-6 GHz prototype systems at its booth during Mobile World Congress Americas (MWCA) in San Francisco this week.

The mmWave system will use Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) antenna technology with adaptive analog beamforming and beam-tracking/steering techniques. Starting in the second half of 2017, the mmWave prototype system will be used in upcoming 3GPP-based 5G NR interoperability testing and over-the-air trials with infrastructure vendors and network operators.

Mobile device OEMs will also have an opportunity to start early in optimizing their devices for the unique challenges associated with integrating 5G NR mmWave technologies in smaller devices. Typically when the wireless industry moves to a new generation, the “handsets” used in early trials tend to be on the bigger side.

Qualcomm’s prototype system includes multiple parts but for the UE prototype, there’s the baseband, which is similar to a computer form factor, in addition to a smartphone-sized form factor for the mmWave RF front end.

"We are delivering on the promise of developing 5G NR mmWave technologies to enhance mobile broadband services,” said Cristiano Amon, executive vice president, Qualcomm Technologies, and president, Qualcomm CDMA Technologies, in a press release. “Our 5G NR mmWave prototype system is proving that sustained mobile broadband communications and smartphone form-factor devices are progressing for 2019 launches—another powerful testament to Qualcomm Technologies’ continued leadership in developing next generation wireless technologies that push the boundaries of what is possible.”

There has been a lot of skepticism about whether millimeter-wave technology could be developed for a form factor as small as the typical smartphone, and engineers tackled the challenge to prove the antenna and RF technology for mmWave could be so designed.

Matt Branda, technical marketing director at Qualcomm, said that’s important in order to engage with smartphone OEMs but also from an over-the-air-testing perspective. One of the challenges with mmWave is hand blocking on the handset. If you’re moving an over-sized handset around for the tests, you’re not really testing the handset in real-world situations. In the real world, consumers are going to be holding the phone in different ways and sometimes the hand or body will block the antenna modules inside the device, which is why they put multiple modules in there.

“This really showcases a step in the direction of actually feasibly getting 5G millimeter wave technology into a smartphone,” he said. The next step is taking the baseband and RF front end and getting that into a smartphone factor in 2019.