Qualcomm, Samsung, and Huawei announce 5G SoCs at IFA in Berlin

The Berlin-based IFA consumer electronics show keynotes from Qualcomm, Huawei, and Samsung illustrated the telecom supplier industry’s strong dedication to 5G System on a Chip (SoC).  Yet this comes more than one year before the IMT 2020 Radio Interface Technology (RIT) standard has been completed and six months (or more) before 3GPP Release 16 (which will specify ultra low latency and ultra high reliability) has been finalized.  Hence, we wonder if major revisions of announced 5G SoC’s and chipsets will be required in IMT 2020 standard endpoint devices?

Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon’s keynote presentation described the company’s 5G strategy, which is focused in part on driving access to 5G end point devices.  Amon promised to bring 5G mobile phones to the masses with a high-end modem and said Qualcomm chips would also power mid-price 5G devices reaching the market next year.

Qualcomm’s second-generation X55 modem supports 5G at both sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave frequencies and supports peak downlink speeds of 7 Gbps and peak uplink speeds of 3 Gbps.

Notable in Qualcomm’s IFA presentation is support for dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) across the 6-, 7- and 8-series Snapdragon mobile platforms. In addition to bringing down the price point on 5G phones, this fits with operators plans to rapidly scale coverage in 2020 by using DSS, which lets LTE and 5G operate in the same band at the same time.  More on DSS (Ericsson and Qualcomm 5G data call) in this techblog post.

As wireless network providers introduce or expand their 5G network offerings, “We need to enable the operators to have that ecosystem ready so you can start providing new devices with dynamic spectrum sharing… We want all the users to have the benefit of this technology,” Amon told the IFA audience.

To make that 5G ecosystem possible, Amon announced Qualcomm would bring its portfolio of 5G mobile platforms out of just the 8-series and into the 7- and 6-series in 2020. Amon said a dozen OEMs were already onboard. with the 5G-enabled 7-series. “We are going to bring 5G to scale with our many partners.”

“Qualcomm have done a phenomenal job to drive the 5G ecosystem,” said industry analyst Paolo Pescatore. “It’s going faster than anyone could have ever imagined.”

–>We certainly agree with that comment – Qualcomm has done a splendid job, but much more work remains before an IMT 2020 chipset/SoC is introduced – most likely in mid 2021.  Qualcomm will likely be partnering with carriers to market new devices. It’s typical for operators to market subsidized handsets in the United States, but much less so in Europe.

qualcomm 5G IFA

Image courtesy of Qualcomm.

5G chipsets from Qualcomm, the world’s biggest supplier of mobile phone chips, now run on five devices from Samsung Electronics, including the $1,299 Galaxy S10 5G model and the new $2,000 Galaxy Fold.  Samsung is the world’s #1  smartphone maker.  It has also put Qualcomm chips in its lower-priced A90 5G model, which had used Samsung chips in an earlier version.

Amon said that Qualcomm plans to add 5G capabilities to its lower-cost Snapdragon 6 and 7 series devices, which could make 5G phones available at lower prices than the current models, which are mostly flagship devices priced at a premium. Qualcomm’s 6 and 7 series Snapdragon chips are found in devices from Lenovo Group Ltd’s Motorola, Xiaomi Corp, Oppo and Vivo that retail in the $300 range.

Indeed, virtually all flagship 5G mobile devices launched in 2019 in Europe and beyond are built on the Qualcomm’s ®Snapdragon™ 855 Mobile Platform.  Such semiconductor market dominance is unprecedented in this author’s 52 years of experience.

“The transition to 5G is going to be faster than earlier transitions,” Amon told Reuters on the sidelines of the IFA consumer electronics fair in Berlin. “Now we have to bring it to everyone.”

Conversely, this author believes the transition to mass market/high volume 5G (based on IMT 2020 standards), will be much longer than earlier transitions, e.g. from 3G to 4G.

More than 20 network operators and a similar number of smartphone makers – from the United States to Europe to China – are launching 5G services and handsets. Amon estimated there were 2.2 billion mobile users that could upgrade to 5G.  Again, we don’t think that will happen till there’s real 5G interoperability and roaming, which will require all devices and base stations to support IMT 2020 RITs/SRITs at a minimum!

Unlike rivals, Qualcomm is designing its chipsets to handle frequencies “from A to Z,” said Amon at IFA, adding that flexibility to switch between 4G networks and new 5G networks was critical.


Qualcomm’s 5G chipset competition is limited:

1.   5G chips from Taiwan based Mediatek can only handle sub-6 bands, reducing the cost and complexity of the chips and phone designs.  There really are no other 5G merchant market silicon vendors.  Mediatek’s 5G chip supports Standalone (SA) and Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G infrastructure, but it only supports sub-6GHz spectrum.

“Everything about this chip is designed for the first wave of flagship 5G devices. The leading-edge technology in this chipset makes it the most powerful 5G SoC announced to date and puts MediaTek at the forefront of 5G SoC design,” said MediaTek President Joe Chen. “MediaTek will power rollouts of 5G premium level devices,” Chen added.

2.  China state owned Unisoc announced the MAKALU 5G technology platform and its first 5G Modem IVY510 at MWC2019 in Barcelona, but that company is not represented in ITU-R WP5D meetings where IMT 2020 RIT/SRITs are being standardized.  UNISOC IVY510 is the first 5G Modem of UNISOC based on the MAKALU technology platform, produced with TSMC’s 12nm process. As the first 2G/3G/4G/5G multimode platform of UNISOC, IVY510 complies to the latest 3GPP R15 spec, supports Sub-6GHz 5G spectrum with a channel bandwidth of 100MHz, which is a highly integrated, high performance, low power 5G platform, and supports both standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) network configurations to meet communication and networking requirements during different stages of 5G deployment.


Samsung announced the Exynos 980 eight-nanometer mobile processor with an integrated 5G modem capable of sub-6 GHz downlink speeds of 2.55 Gbps and 1.28 Gbps uplink.

ENDC refers to 5G/LTE dual connectivity and, based on 3GPP documents, stands for E-UTRAN New Radio-Dual Connectivity. Essentially ENDC allows user equipment to connect to an LTE eNodeB that acts as a master node and a 5G gNodeB that acts as a secondary node. Sprint, for instance, uses this to deploy LTE and 5G in its 2.5 GHz spectrum at the same time; a complement to the split-mode manner the carrier configures its massive MIMO radios.  Samsung said that ENDC provides peak speeds of 3.55 Gbps downstream and $2.55 Gbps upstream.

samsung 5G exynos

Image courtesy of Samsung Electronics.

“With the introduction of our 5G modem last year, Samsung has been driving in the 5G revolution and paved the way towards the next step in mobility,” said Ben Hur, vice president of System LSI marketing at Samsung Electronics. “With the 5G-integrated Exynos 980, Samsung is pushing to make 5G more accessible to a wider range of users and continues to lead innovation in the mobile 5G market,” he added.


Huawei’s Richard Yu reviewed the specs of the Kirin 990, which the company called “the world’s first 5G SoC,” a disputed claim.  Yu touted the Kirin 990 chipset at IFA:  “It’s the world’s most powerful 5G system on a chip. It’s the world’s most powerful 5G modem.”

The Kirin 990 5G is built on a seven-nanometer semiconductor manufacturing process.  It includes silicon technologies from previous iterations of the Kirin line as well as the Balong line.

huawei 5G

Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, presents at IFA. Image courtesy of Huawei.

The updated Kirin is set to power Huawei’s upcoming flagship smartphone the Mate 30, which will be officially announced at a Sept. 19th launch event in Munich, Germany.  According to specs provided by Huawei, the Kirin 990 packs more than 10 billion transistors.  It can theoretically support downlink speeds of up to 2.3 Gbps and uplink speeds of 1.25 Gbps upstream.  The chip set has an adaptive receiver that enables it to switch between 4G and 5G where coverage of the faster technology is weak.  And, to save energy, it has a ‘big core’ to handle powerful computing tasks with the support of artificial intelligence, and a ‘tiny core’ for less demanding operation.

Huawei probably won’t sell the Kirin SoC on the semiconductor merchant market, but rather use it internally in its 5G endpoint devices (mostly 5G smart phones- for now). The latest Kirin does not support millimeter wave (mmWave) frequencies, which provide multi-gigabit-per-second speeds at the expense of much shorter range/distance.  The U.S. has auctioned more millimeter wave frequencies than any other country while AT&T and Verizon are using it in their pre-IMT 2020 standard 5G deployments.  Again,  mmWave has a much shorter range than mid and lower band spectrum, but has higher data-carrying capacity.  Currently, millimeter wave-based 5G networks are more or less limited to the U.S. market where regulatory issues make it very difficult for Huawei to sell anything, including smartphones.

Indeed, due to U.S. trade sanctions, Huawei’s 5G-ready Mate 30 smartphone, scheduled to be launched on Sept. 19, won’t be able to run the official version of Google’s Android operating system and app services if U.S. sanctions remain in place.  That eliminates the entire Android app ecosystem which include pre-installing the Google Play store and a suite of popular apps such as Google Maps that buyers would expect to be available from the moment they turn on their new phone and synch it with their profile.  Huawei’s fallback option would be to run the devices on its home-grown Harmony operating system, although company officials and analysts say it is not yet ready for prime time.

All that makes it highly unlikely Huawei will be able to sell any 5G smartphone outside of China. 

“Qualcomm has a scale advantage,” said Ben Wood, analyst at CCS Insight. “Huawei’s commitment to continue innovating on silicon is really impressive, especially given the geopolitical headwinds they are facing. “But at the end of the day, it’s a single-vendor solution. And, even if they had aspirations to sell the chipset, that is getting more difficult all the time,” Wood added.







9 thoughts on “Qualcomm, Samsung, and Huawei announce 5G SoCs at IFA in Berlin

  1. Perhaps more interesting is the neural processing unit within the Kirin 990 Soc. It is a coprocessor optimized for machine learning frameworks like Google’s TensorFlow. Huawei says it can automatically distribute workloads like voice recognition, computer vision, and natural language understanding across its heterogeneous computing architecture.

    The Kirin 990 is expected to land on Huawei’s Mate 30 lineup, set to be unveiled at a London event later this month. The company says there will also be a 4G-only variant for mid-range devices that is otherwise identical.


    1. So, would the fast speeds/low-latency promised by 5G mean that each device/smartphone with this chip might be part of a larger neural network that becomes a Machine Learning behemoth?

      1. Ken, I think that’s possible but a huge problem would be co-ordinating all the 5G smartphones/end points in forming a larger neural network. Seems very unlikely that could be done.

  2. Corroboration of Huawei woes for the Mate 30/Mate 30 Pro smartphones:

    According to The Nikkei Asian Review, Huawei will not be able to ship either the Mate 30/Mate 30 Pro, or the Mate X with any Google apps and services. That means no Google Play Store, or pre-installed Chrome, Gmail, YouTube, Maps, and so on. The loss of the app store is definitely the biggest blow, along with the Google Play Services suite, on which many third-party apps depend in order to function properly.

    The Mate 30, Mate 30 Pro, and Mate X will still run Android, only it will be the open source version, not the one that has Google’s blessing, which is what we’ve all been accustomed to using over the past few years.

    Analysts are estimating that this will hit Huawei’s smartphone shipments hard, as you’d expect. Sales outside of China could plunge by 30% or more.


  3. Qualcomm 5G chipsets:

    Leading smartphone makers like Oppo, realme, Redmi, Vivo, Motorola, HMD and LG are all set to incorporate Qualcomm’s upcoming 5G platform in their midrange offerings with the new Snapdragon 7 series. These chipsets will be built on the 7nm process and are expected to be commercially ready as early as Q4 2019. In addition, the Snapdragon 6 series will bring the full 5G experience to even more consumers around the world in the second half of 2020.


  4. MediaTek Readies 5G SoC for 2020

    MediaTek is expecting to have its 5G chips running in phones early “in the first half of next year,” Finbarr Moynihan, vice preseident of corporate sales and business development told Light Reading at an event in New York on Tuesday evening.

    The firm is expecting to start shipping its 5G system-on-chip (SoC) to customers late this year, meaning the SoC will be commercially available in phones in the first half of next year. The SoC chip is built on a 7-nanometer process and serves sub-6GHz 5G frequencies.

    MediaTek is focused on Chinese customers for the initial launch. “It will be China first,” Moynihan tells us. Other markets will receive the MediaTek chips later in 2020. Up until now, the majority of 5G handsets have used Qualcomm 5G silicon. This appears set to change in the first half of 2020.

    Aside from 5G, MediaTek also has growing confidence in its IoT-focused chipsets. The firm was showing off a variety of smart home products from Amazon — and other vendors — that use MediaTek silicon.

    Moynihan says that different areas of the IoT market will require different connectivity methods. Smart home devices will depend on WiFi for the time being, the VP expects, whereas lower power connections via cellular IoT will play out in the asset tracking IoT area and more.


  5. I think 5G chip sets should be as cheap as possible so that countries like India (with huge potential demand) can afford 5G endpoint devices (e.g. smart phones, tablets, notebook PCs, WiFi routers, IoT devices, etc). The increase in the sales volume the cheaper 5G chips would generate would more than compensate for a lower price per unit. Also, compliance with the IMT 2020 standard should help to greatly increase volumes which should result in lower cost 5G/IMT 2020 chip sets.

    A key unresolved issue will be 5G/ IMT 2020 conformance testing and certification.

    Another unaddressed issue is 5G security which needs to be specified in layers with some security functions implemented in 5G/IMT 2020 chip sets. Unfortunately, no official standards body appears to be working on the specification of 5G security protocols.

  6. Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m undoubtedly enjoying your IEEE Techblog and look forward to new posts, comments and updates.

    1. Yes, you can follow me on Twitter @ajwdct to get notification of new IEEE Techblog posts and important new comments.

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