Qualcomm's new X65 5G modem downloads data at lightning-fast 10Gbps speeds

Who needs that? People getting fixed wireless home internet access and companies building high-tech factories, among other users, Qualcomm execs say.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
7 min read

Qualcomm's new X65 modem can download data at up to 10Gbps.


Qualcomm's new modem is here, it's blazing fast and it's not just for phones . The Snapdragon X65 5G Modem-RF System can download data at up to 10Gbps, and it will power high-end devices starting later this year. Those include premium smartphones, PCs, mobile hotspots, robots , fixed wireless access and private 5G networks set up by companies. 

With the X65, unveiled Tuesday, users will get a bump in speed but also see better battery life. Coverage will improve, latency will decrease and applications will be even more responsive than they are with Qualcomm's earlier X60 modem technology. And capacity will be "massive," letting more people on a network make reliable and crisp video calls with their doctors and face off against rivals in streaming games.

Qualcomm on Tuesday also unveiled its X62 5G Modem-RF System that's capable of downloading data at up to 4.4Gbps and aimed at less expensive smartphones. 

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With the previous-generation X60 modem, just now arriving in smartphones like Samsung's Galaxy S21, you can download data over 5G networks at up to 7.5Gbps and upload information as fast as 3Gbps, only slightly faster than the previous generation of modem. But the X60 also has the ability to aggregate the slower but more reliable sub-6 networks with the faster but finicky millimeter-wave spectrum, boosting overall performance and helping users see faster average speeds. 

The X65 has the same benefit. While it's unlikely that you'll regularly -- or maybe even ever -- see 10Gbps download speeds, you'll consistently see speeds that are magnitudes faster than your current 4G smartphone. That's partly because the X65 system has eight antennas instead of the four traditionally found in phones, something that will improve the connection.

"It means better coverage, better capacity for the network in general and overall better user experience," Durga Malladi, senior vice president and general manager of 4G and 5G at Qualcomm, said during a meeting with a small group of reporters ahead of the announcement. "You actually get to hit those peak rates more frequently." The X65 is also more powerful, which gives the signal a longer range, he said. 

Qualcomm has long been known as the world's leading wireless chipmaker, and it counts Samsung, Apple and virtually all major handset makers across the globe as its customers. In recent years, Qualcomm also has pushed its components into computers, cars and various other products, and it hopes to spread 5G to everything from robots to VR headsets

The Snapdragon X65 will help with that effort. While 10Gbps speeds aren't needed for most mobile applications today, they could be vital for factories or fixed wireless access in homes.  At 10Gbps, the X65 is 10 times faster than the fastest landline connection, which is currently about 1Gbps. 

The heavily hyped 5G technology also runs between 10 and 100 times faster than today's typical 4G cellular connection, and it's much more responsive than 4G and Wi-Fi. 5G provides more capacity on the network, letting a lot more devices be connected at the same time. And it's more reliable than other wireless connections. 

Qualcomm tends to unveil its newest modem at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona each winter, but the global coronavirus pandemic has delayed the conference to the summer. After introducing a standalone modem, Qualcomm then works to integrate the technology into its next Snapdragon processor, which it unveils in December. It typically appears in phones early the following year. Samsung's Galaxy S21 smartphones, unveiled in mid-January, use Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 processor -- announced in December -- with its X60 modem, which was unveiled in February 2020. 

The initial hype around 5G seemed to be all about mobile. The super-fast wireless network will let us download gigabits of data in seconds and stream live video in ultra-high definition. We'll be able to do things that we could never do before on a mobile device -- and do them nearly instantaneously. But 5G has the ability to transform more than just phones. It has huge implications for robots, cars, health devices, retail and various other industries.

"Once you get to 10Gbps in millimeter wave, you have a lot of enterprise applications now that ... can benefit from the speed," Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm's CEO-elect, said during a meeting with reporters ahead of the launch. That could include PCs in homes or robots in factories. The X65 "is a pretty big deal because we now have the technology in place to start thinking about ... the promise of all of those services of 5G beyond phones," Amon said. 

But phones aren't going away, he said. And it's likely some of the first products using the X65 will be smartphones. Customers have samples of the X65 now, and the first devices with the modem system will arrive later this year. While Qualcomm didn't mention Apple, the tech giant could use a version of the X65 in the next iPhones , which typically hit the market in September. 

Bringing 5G to the home and office

The X65 allows device makers to easily roll out new features using software updates. Instead of a wireless operator having to make changes at towers, the changes can be rolled out remotely. It "future proofs" the technology and extends the life of the product, something that's key for fixed wireless access and other areas that aren't upgraded frequently. 

The way fixed wireless works is that a cellular company beams a signal to an antenna on or near the roof of a building. The connection travels down a cable into the home and then connects to a router, which broadcasts Wi-Fi to nearby devices. The benefit is that the service is typically faster and easier to install than a traditional hard-wired internet link, and you also get the benefits of 5G's lower latency. 

When it comes to fixed wireless access, Qualcomm on Tuesday unveiled its second-generation 5G Fixed Wireless Access Platform. It's powered by the X65 and features Qualcomm's second-generation QTM547 mmWave antenna module, which extends the range of 5G and contains eight antennas. The technology will let operators provide faster fixed broadband internet service in homes and businesses using their 5G network infrastructure. 

Verizon, for one, turned on its 5G fixed wireless service before it launched its mobile offering. 

The 5G Fixed Wireless Access Platform "further advances our efforts in addressing the 'connectivity divide' by helping provide operators a cost-effective way to deliver fiber-like internet speeds wirelessly over 5G to rural, suburban and dense urban communities," Gautam Sheoran, senior director of product management, at Qualcomm, said in a statement. 

Qualcomm also unveiled a new Snapdragon X12+ LTE modem for fixed-wireless devices that rely only on 4G networks. Operators can upgrade their fixed wireless offerings to reach download speeds of up to 600 Mbps. 

More than just faster speeds

Along with the X65 are a number of other technologies to improve the connectivity in a device. The X65 pairs with Qualcomm's QTM545 antenna module, which helps improve mmWave signals. The technology is super fast but can travel only short distances, and it's easily blocked by trees, hands and other items. While it's favored by Verizon in the US, T-Mobile and most carriers in China and other regions of the world instead have rolled out sub-6GHz 5G, which doesn't go as fast but is more reliable. 

But mmWave is rolling out in more places around the globe. Along with the US, it's in Japan and Southeast Asia and likely will expand to South Korea, Germany, the UK and Australia, Qualcomm said. 

Handset makers pack three or four mmWave modules into their devices to prevent the signal from being blocked by a hand. The QTM 545 modem antenna module is Qualcomm's fourth-general mmWave product at a time when its rivals are on their first generation. It's the same size as the previous generation but supports higher transmit power and all global mmWave frequencies. 

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In terms of rivals, MediaTek last week unveiled its M80 processor that will bring mmWave to its customers for the first time later this year, while Samsung's Exynos 2100 shipped in the Galaxy S21 in some markets. Both of those modems are capable of downloading data at around 7Gbps. 

Qualcomm's new Snapdragon X65 includes artificial intelligence tuning technology for the first time, which boosts a modem's performance. It can perform tasks like improving accuracy in detecting hand grips by 30% compared to the X60 and ultimately leads to faster data speeds, better coverage and longer battery life.

"It continues to learn and get better as you use your modem," Amon said. 

The X65 also includes Qualcomm's 5G PowerSave 2.0 that improves battery life, and its Smart Transmit 2.0 boosts upload data speeds and improves coverage for mmWave and sub-6GHz bands while meeting RF emissions requirements.

And it taps into Qualcomm's latest radio frequency front end technology to cover all of the 5G airwaves deployed around the globe. When it comes to 5G, there are over 10,000 frequency band combinations, versus fewer than 20 in the early days of 4G. Qualcomm's technology allows companies to focus on industrial design and what a device's user interface is like instead of spending time dealing with the complexity of 5G airwaves. It manages all of the signals sent and received over the air and improves battery life. 

"The breadth of industries that the X65 Modem RF Platform actually touches is quite staggering," Malladi said. Qualcomm has made sure that it has "addressed what we think is where 5G is headed," he said.