Cellular chipmakers have spent years working to miniaturize 5G components before the first 5G devices hit stores, and that process is continuing down to the wire. Mere months before CES, Qualcomm today announced that it has achieved a 25 percent reduction in the size of its 5G millimeter wave antennas, which are expected to be critical parts in early 5G mobile handsets.
Qualcomm publicly revealed its first QTM052 millimeter wave (mmWave) antennas back in July, showing roughly fingertip-sized modules designed to pair with the company’s Snapdragon X50 5G modems. Each antenna is capable of being used on 26.5-29.5 GHz, 27.5-28.35 GHz, or 37-40 GHz mmWave bands, though Qualcomm has said device makers could include up to four antennas to prevent signal loss in handheld devices.
Unfortunately, device makers have been struggling to fit even a single 5G antenna module within the ever-shrinking bezels of standard-sized modern smartphones. Last month, we noted that the latest images depicting prototype 5G smartphones were looking more like phablets than pocket devices and that reports have suggested multiple 5G chipmakers have been facing eleventh-hour miniaturization challenges. In response, Qualcomm said it was “laser-focused on ensuring smartphone size is not impacted” by inclusion of millimeter wave hardware.
Today’s announcement demonstrates that Qualcomm and its partners are indeed making progress, even as the clock ticks down to the launch of early 5G mobile devices. By reducing the antenna’s size by a quarter, Qualcomm makes a single 5G antenna easier to implement and cuts a full antenna’s worth of volume from a four-antenna array — more space for a battery, or a way to make the smartphone smaller. The company says its dozens of OEM partners “now have more options for antenna placement, providing them with more freedom and flexibility in their 5G mmWave designs.”
Qualcomm’s smaller QTM052 mmWave antenna module family is currently sampling to customers and is planned for commercial 5G device launches in early 2019. Xiaomi has promised to show off its first 5G smartphone this week, including Qualcomm components, and Lenovo has similarly said it will be using Qualcomm parts in its early 5G phones.