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Meet Qualcomm’s X60, the modem that will power 5G phones in 2021

Qualcomm has a new modem for next year’s 5G phones that aims to boost the average speed on devices by aggregating different types of wireless signals.

Qualcomm on Tuesday unveiled its Snapdragon X60 5G modem, which is made using process technology of 5 nanometers, or 5 billionths of a meter. That results in lower power consumption and a smaller footprint for even sleeker devices. Like its predecessor, the X55, the X60 will run on everything from 2G to 5G networks, and it will access the slower but more reliable sub-6 Ghz networks and the faster but spottier millimeter wave networks.

Admittedly, the changes here aren’t nearly as dramatic as the X50 (Qualcomm’s first 5G modem, which introduced the next-gen network) or the X55 (which helped expand 5G by adding better support for standalone 5G networks that weren’t based in LTE). Instead, the X60 is designed to combine and leverage existing 5G technologies in subtler ways.

What the X60 doesn’t bring is much higher peak speeds. With the upcoming modem, you’ll be able to download data over 5G networks at up to 7.5 Gbps and upload information as fast as 3 Gbps. The earlier X55 modem’s download speed topped out at 7 Gbps, while its upload speed also was 3 Gbps.

You will, however, see faster average speeds, Qualcomm said. The X60 has the ability to aggregate the slower sub-6 networks with the faster mmwave spectrum, boosting overall performance.

The other major change in the X60 is the shift from a 7nm process to a 5nm process, making the actual modem hardware itself smaller and more power efficient, meaning it’ll likely be easier for manufacturers to fit the modem into their phones. Qualcomm also announced a new QTM535 mmWave antenna to go with the new X60, which it says is smaller than the QTM525.

The X60 will start sampling to smartphone makers this quarter and is expected to ship with devices in early 2021. The product represents a notable milestone not just for Qualcomm but also the entire mobile industry, since the company is the dominant maker of modem chips for smartphones. If the current handset landscape is any indication, most of the 5G-compatible devices that will debut this year and next will feature Qualcomm.

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