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iPhone and Intel are at the center of Qualcomm's 5G crosshairs

The world's largest mobile chipmaker is amassing an army of 5G Android phones.

Juan Garzon / CNET

The world's largest mobile chipmaker is using 5G phones to go after Apple's iPhones and Intel -- hard. That was clear after Qualcomm's tech summit in Hawaii last week where one after the other, executives compared the speed and battery gains of Qualcomm's processors that will power 5G and 4G phones and laptops to Intel and Apple's competing models. 

The potshots came fast and furious. Qualcomm wants a piece of Intel's PC pie, and it wants to punish Apple for leaving Qualcomm chips out of current and future iPhones. It also wants to push back against the perception that Apple, with its internal mobile processor business, is leading the pack when it comes to chip technology. 

For Qualcomm, it's key to maintain its position as the world's biggest mobile chipmaker. Smartphone sales are starting to slow, but Qualcomm keeps benefiting from offering must-have features in its newest chips. It needs that to remain the case, particularly as it sees more competition not only from other processor makers but also from device makers, like Apple, designing their own chips. 

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Throughout the three-day event, Qualcomm trotted out heavyweight partners like Samsung, Verizon, AT&T, Lenovo, Google and Microsoft to announce news -- like the first 5G phones to launch in 2019 -- and to dig deep into the enormous speed and power gains that its new chips will bring. The Snapdragon 855 chipset will drive most major Android phones in 2019 and the new 8cx processor, designed specifically for Windows 2-in-1s, will expand Qualcomm's foothold into PC computing. (See every announcement below).

The importance of 5G to Qualcomm cannot be overstated. The shift from 4G to 5G will mark a profound transformation in the way that people use devices, and the way that these devices will talk to each other. 5G is about more than just faster downloads. The technology will put billions of other devices online and enable remote surgery and self-driving cars that can talk to each other to avoid collisions. 

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The chipmaker shared a prototype 5G phone on the first day of its annual conference. 

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The dual promise of extreme data speeds and instant network connections makes 5G a juicy prize for networks and device makers that can get there first, and that's as true for Qualcomm, the chip supplier, as it aims to outmaneuver Intel and others worldwide. 5G will also come to future always-connected PCs, the company said. Most 5G networks will light up in early and mid-2019, though AT&T says it's on track to turn on its first 5G market by the end of 2018.

On the PC front, Qualcomm wants to make strides against Intel by powering the Windows convertible laptops that brands like Lenovo and Samsung sell in droves to companies for employee use. It's a space Intel currently dominates, but Qualcomm is banking on its 4G and future 5G connections to Verizon, AT&T and other networks to catch the eye of corporations.

Most of all, Qualcomm is counting on its newest technology to help it remain the mobile chip king. Here's what it announced earlier this week to help with that goal.

Qualcomm's 5G news

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Qualcomm's 855 chip, in the flesh.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Snapdragon 855 news

Always-on, always-connected PC news

Story originally published Dec. 4 at 9:15am PT.
Updated most recently Dec. 10 at 10:30am PT with new details.

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