WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
The fastest form of 5G, mmWave, has a limited distance of a mile or so, this latest breakthrough smashes that barrier, but there’s still more that needs to be done before everyone gets access to super fast 5G.
As 5G networks have continued to spread across the world one of the biggest issues with the ultra fast millimeter wave (mmWave) towers it relies on has been their short transmission distance, which is generally measured in city blocks rather than miles – something that’s a major problem if you want to roll out super fast 5G technology, that can hit blistering top speeds of nearly 10 Gbps to everyone everywhere.
This week though Qualcomm announced a breakthrough in mmWave transmission range and successfully sustained a 5G data connection over a 3.8 kilometer (2.36 mile) distance which is over twice the range originally promised by its long range QTM527 antenna system last year, meaning that in the future 5G will be much easier and cheaper to roll out.
Qualcomm is touting the achievement as evidence of mmWave’s viability as a fixed wireless access solution, enabling carriers to finally offer fiber beating 5G speeds to rural, suburban, and urban communities that will finally be able to ditch their crappy fixed line broadband contracts and access the internet at gigabit speeds – something that even just a few years ago most of them would have thought of as a crazy idea.
That said though 5G in these rural areas might not be king of the hill for long after Elon Musk’s space based Starlink internet constellation clocked up an average speed of 60Mbps in its first unofficial trials as the company slowly grinds through the gears and ramps up its own network and technology to connect everyone in the US, as well as the world, at gigabit speeds.
Millimeter wave 5G has the potential to be the fastest flavour of the new cellular standard, enabling multiple gigabit per second transfer speeds, thanks to generally huge blocks of available wireless spectrum.
So far in the US Verizon is one of the few companies to lean heavily on mmWave 5G to help its customers connect at 1 – 2Gbps speeds – provided they’re close enough to the towers that is, and combined with fast network responsiveness, aka low latency, those speeds are expected to enable everything from real-time mixed reality streaming to next-generation industrial applications.
But until now, mmWave has struggled to reach devices at long distances, requiring carriers to deploy large numbers of short-range “small cells” just to achieve coverage – for example, in order for Verizon to blanket the US Superbowwl with full 5G coverage it cost the company well over $25 million – and that was just for one stadium.
Therefore each doubling of range, like the one that’s just been announced, should significantly reduce the required small cell density, making deployment significantly less expensive for carriers and more practical for actual 5G service rollouts. However, range improvement promises have thus far been focused on home broadband modems, not handheld devices which is another issue that still needs to be overcome.
In Qualcomms test the company relied on two existing Qualcomm hardware solutions — the Snapdragon X55 modem and QTM527 antenna — inside a consumer premises equipment broadband modem, communicating with Ericsson’s Air5121 and Baseband 6630 tower hardware, enhanced by extended-range software. No details were provided on speeds or other details of the connection, but Qualcomm characterised the successful range test as “the first step in utilizing mmWave for an extended-range 5G data transfer,” hinting that there may have been compromises in speed or other areas. The company previously noted that carriers would be able to deliver up to a staggering 7Gbps download speeds if the QTM527 could access a full 800MHz of mmWave spectrum, and so far existing tower hardware has hit 4.3Gbps for a single device or 8.5Gbps for two devices.
Qualcomm has also already announced the more capable Snapdragon X60 modem as a followup to the X55 but hasn’t yet revealed a successor antenna solution to the QTM527, which was announced just under a year ago. As improving mmWave’s long-distance performance appears to have been a top priority for the company and its partners, it’s highly likely that we’ll see continued gains in future consumer and carrier offerings.