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Can't wait for 5G? How your next phone goes supersonic in 4G

Qualcomm's new LTE modem may double your phone's LTE speed.

The first phones to tap into ludicrous 5G speeds won't land until 2019, but you won't have to have one to start taking advantage of supercharged 4G LTE.

Qualcomm, the world's largest mobile chipmaker, unveiled a new ingredient for future phones that will help devices zip through photo uploads and video streaming at up to double the speed of today's LTE capabilities -- without needing a certified 5G phone.

This step-up from today's fastest gigabit LTE capabilities will be an important way to close the speed gap when 5G comes in and blows 4G away. That's because "5G starts us off at 5 times faster than the best 4G networks available today," said Sherif Hanna, Qualcomm's director of product marketing for 4G and 5G products. We can expect speeds up to 10 times faster than the average 4G network, he added.

Despite the hype around 5G -- one of the hottest trends in technology -- most people won't get to use it right away. Access to 5G will be limited when it first rolls out, beginning in densely populated downtown areas like San Francisco and Manhattan, Qualcomm said, before spreading to the rest of the country. Even then, phonemakers and carriers will need to choose when they start using 5G technology. Until they do, this much faster 4G, which is expected to come out in phones around the same time as the first 5G networks -- may be the route they go.


Qualcomm's X24 modem is set to help double your phone's data speeds.


To that end, Qualcomm's freshly announced X24 LTE modem will support 2 gigabit-per-second speeds, the first of its kind to do so. (Gb, or gigabits per second are not to be confused with GB, gigabytes per second.) That's the equivalent of downloading 7GB of Ultra HD video on Netflix in 28 seconds at 2Gb speeds. Or, you could download the entire second season of "Stranger Things" in regular HD (2.1GB) in about 8.4 seconds.

Those numbers represent the fastest your phone could possibly download data, but that's not what you'll realistically get each time you go online. Qualcomm expects its 2Gbps modems to pull down real-world averages between 200 and 600 megabytes per second, or Mbps. That's much slower, but the figure still doubles today's fastest LTE average of 100-to-300 Mbps, based on varied network conditions. That means you can realistically expect "Stranger Things" Season 2 in HD to download in between 84 seconds (1.4 minutes) and 28 seconds in the adjusted, real-world range.

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For reference, phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Motorola Moto Z2 Force can already download at a theoretical peak of 1 gigabit of data per second, while 5G phones using Qualcomm's X50 modem promise to download up to 5 gigabits per second.

Carriers will continue to upgrade 4G LTE networks at the same time they spin up their first 5G networks, which is the X24's main selling point as an in-betweener. It underscores the continued importance of the current network technology.

"The wireless industry is going to compete on LTE network into the next decade," T-Mobile Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray said on a call with analysts last week. "5G isn't going to move the needle for a while."

Until 5G ramps up, 2-gigabit phones will be there to pick up the slack.

Read also: What's 5G? Here are the basics

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