Qualcomm, Ericsson, US Cellular reveal 5G mmWave data call: a solution for the last mile?

Qualcomm, Ericsson, and US Cellular have revealed what is thought to be the first extended-range 5G NR mmWave data call.

Performed on a commercial network, the call paves the way for 5G applications in rural areas for both businesses and consumers by extending the service possibilities of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) installations.

Taking place over a 5km distance in Janesville, Wisconsin, the call was made by applying extended-range software to Ericsson hardware, including the AIR5121 and Baseband 6630, together with 5G-enabled customer premises equipment containing a Qualcomm X55 5G modem and a QTM527 mmWave antenna module.

The companies were able to establish speeds of over 100 Mbps. According to Qualcomm, the “milestone” call will help “bridge the digital divide” — as it shows that 5G can enable rapid speeds across areas traditionally neglected when it comes to broadband, including rural and remote locations. 

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At a time when many of us are working from home and organizations ranging from healthcare providers to schools have been forced to rely on internet connectivity to operate, FWA utilizing 5G mmWave technology could solve connectivity issues faced by consumers and businesses alike. 

“This achievement redefines the perception of 5G mmWave spectrum as an urban- or high-density-only deployment technology and offers new opportunities to use current infrastructure for broader 5G coverage,” Qualcomm says. 

The company added that the milestone also opens the door to new FWA use cases, such as tackling the “last mile.” This issue, faced by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) worldwide, relates to the slowdown of internet connections from central connectivity points to consumer devices due to location and traffic, which can result in performance downgrades experienced by customers. 

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“This major milestone of using mmWave for an extended-range 5G data transfer is paving the way to implement fixed broadband services for broad coverage in urban, suburban, and rural environments,” commented Alejandro Holcman, senior vice president of engineering at Qualcomm. “With the introduction of the Qualcomm QTM527 mmWave antenna module as part of the Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF System, we are empowering operators and OEMs to offer high-performance, extended-range multi-gigabit 5G broadband to their customers.”

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The US chipmaker has poured millions of dollars into the research and development of 5G, and in recent months, has released 5G-enabled processor designs suitable for smartphones and laptops.

The Snapdragon 865 and 865 Plus chips are aimed at premium 5G smartphones, whereas the Snapdragon 690 has been designed for mid-range devices. Earlier this month, Qualcomm debuted the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 2, a 5G processor for Always On, Always Connected PCs. 

According to Gartner, worldwide 5G network infrastructure market revenue will reach $8.1 billion, despite the disruption caused by COVID-19. 

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