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Qualcomm's expanding 5G to cheaper smartphones with new chips

And that could help over 2 billion people connect to the super-fast wireless network.

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Smartphone companies like Samsung use Qualcomm's modems in their 5G devices.

Chris Monroe/CNET

5G phone prices are about to get a lot cheaper.

Next year, Qualcomm will expand its 5G modems across its Snapdragon 8 series, 7 series and 6 series processors, the company said Friday at the IFA electronics show in Berlin. The company's 8 series chips are aimed at high-end phones like the Galaxy S10, and it's the Snapdragon 855, alongside a Qualcomm 5G modem, that connects the Galaxy S10 5G, Note 10 Plus 5G and other phones to 5G networks. The company's 7 series and 6 series chips power much more affordable devices, like those from HMD, Motorola and Oppo

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5G is touted as a game-changing technology, with the ability to dramatically boost the speed and coverage of wireless networks. It can run between 10 and 100 times faster than your typical 4G cellular connection today. And latency, the amount of time between when your phone pings the network and when it responds, is faster than what Wi-Fi provides.

But the first 5G devices have been expensive. The Galaxy S10 5G costs $1,299, while the regular S10 starts at $900. The new Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G retails for $1,300, while the 4G model starts at $1,100

By expanding 5G across its product line, Qualcomm will make the wireless technology available to even more consumers. It won't be just the Samsungs of the world making 5G phones. 

"We launched 5G," Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon said Friday during a keynote presentation at IFA." We want everyone to have it. With this technology … we're going to bring 5G to scale with our many partners."

Qualcomm said its partners are developing over 150 designs using its 5G processors. It projected that expanding 5G across its product line will make 5G accessible to over 2 billion smartphone users. 

Qualcomm, the world's biggest wireless chipmaker, is the primary company providing 5G modems to handset makers. Its chips are used in virtually all 5G phones on the US market. Its current 5G modem, the X50, runs on 5G networks only. Handset makers need to buy a separate chip that can connect to older networks. Two modems means a more expensive, bulkier and battery-hogging phone. It's part of the reason why we've seen 5G phones cost so much more than their 4G siblings. 

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Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon talks up 5G on Friday during a keynote at the IFA electronics show in Berlin.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

But its next modem, the X55, will be able to run on older generations of wireless technology in addition to 5G, addressing a lot of the X50 issues. Next year, Qualcomm will integrate the X55 with the brains of a new 8-series Snapdragon processor. That will make phones even cheaper and more power efficient, among other benefits. The company on Friday said it will give more details about that chip later this year, likely at its Snapdragon Summit in early December. 

The new 5G Snapdragon 7 series chip will also be an integrated processor, Qualcomm said Friday. Twelve handset makers plan to use the processor, including Oppo, realme, Redmi, Vivo, Motorola and Nokia phone maker HMD Global. Customers started getting samples of the chip in the second quarter, letting them perform tests and other tasks before launch. Devices should launch in the fourth quarter or early next year. 

Devices using the 6 series 5G chip will be available in the second half of 2020.