A lot of us don’t pay much attention to antennas past how they can best be covered up, but rest assured, there are some people out there stressing over them. A lot of those people work for Qualcomm and TDK, two companies that have just embarked on a joint venture to make sure that smartphones are ready for the 5G era.
Over the past year, both Intel and Qualcomm have introduced their first 5G modems — well, that’s what they’re called, anyway. Both support wide-band 28 GHz mmWave connectivity, which should be used in 5G networks, but it’s worth remembering that with 5G still being undefined, any use of the term should be taken with a grain of salt.
Another feature of those 5G modems is multi-in multi-out support, which allows for carrier aggregation — using multiple radio frequencies to make download and upload speeds as fast as possible. In the current 4G LTE era, hundreds of frequency combinations are possible, but switching between them is something that happens behind the scenes. That takes not only a good modem, but a good RF front end — roughly speaking, the parts that take in those radio waves from the air and turn them into useful information for the phone.
It’s that RF front end that Qualcomm and TDK are improving. The joint venture, called RF360 Holdings, combines Qualcomm’s expertise in signal reception and TDK’s expertise in filters — the things that strain out unwanted signals. That improves Qualcomm’s TruSignal tech, which helps make sure switching between frequencies happens smoothly. The new RF front end systems will start going into phones starting with Snapdragon 835 phones this year.
What does it mean for smartphone owners? More optimization mainly means two things — better battery life and better reception. Network connectivity accounts for a huge amount of power draw, so any little bit of improvement can make a huge difference. And, with more optimal usage of multiple bands, it’s more likely you won’t lose signal while indoors — less of a problem than it used to be, but it still happens. The new tech will also double the power that phones can transmit, making them better at both receiving and sending data.
The benefits won’t just accrue to smartphones. 5G is going to make it possible for massive numbers of drones and autonomous vehicles to connect to data networks, something that’s going to be necessary for self-driving cars and drone delivery to work at a citywide or nationwide scale. It’s especially important for self-driving cars, in which latency and disconnects won’t be annoyances, they’ll be unacceptably dangerous. In other words, RF front end technology is something we’ll probably be paying attention to a lot more in the near future.