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Qualcomm announces M.2 reference designs and new features for its 5G modems

A Snapdragon X65 5G RF-modem in an M2 reference design

Qualcomm is making it easier for 5G to be widely adopted by more categories of devices with the introduction of the M.2 reference designs for its latest modem-RF systems, the Snapdragon X65 and X62.

These modems were first announced earlier this year, and the Snapdragon X65 specifically is the first 5G modem to promise speeds up to 10Gbps. But building these modems into a PC can be difficult and costly, and that's what Qualcomm aims to fix with the new M.2 reference designs. They use the same form factor that's already common for SSDs, meaning they can be widely compatible without OEMs having to make big changes to the internal design of devices.

This is big news for always-connected PCs, which will be able to get up to 10Gbps speeds on the cellular network - of course, in optimal conditions that are still a rarity today. Regardless, this should make it much easier for manufacturers to add 5G support to their laptops.

Durga Malladi, senior vice president and general manager for 4G and 5G at Qualcomm, said:

“We’ve seen a dramatic growth in data consumption as a result of remote work and higher mobility. To help meet this data demand and create exciting new products and experiences, our new 5G M.2 Reference Designs tackle many 5G design complexities upfront so that OEMs don’t have to(...). Qualcomm Technologies is committed to leading the acceleration and expansion of 5G beyond smartphones. We’ve built world-class engineering and customer service teams dedicated to 5G mobile broadband to equip customers with advanced reference designs. We are empowering the ecosystem to bring next generation Release 16 5G products as early as late 2021 and helping create new business opportunities across computing, CPEs, XR, gaming, industrial IoT and beyond.”

These reference designs support all the features of these modems, and on that note, Qualcomm also announced some new features for the Snapdragon X65 today. You may recall that this modem-RF system comes with an upgradable architecture, which means that Qualcomm plans to add new 3GPP Release 16 features over time, and Qualcomm announced the first of those upgrades today.

First off, the company is adding support for up to 200MHz carrier bandwidth in mmWave, as well as support for mmWave 5G in standalone (SA) mode. These upgrades are required for the rollout of mmWave 5G in China, but should ultimately benefit everyone. The Snapdragon X65 supports carrier aggregation of up to 1GHz of mmWave spectrum and 300MHz of sub-6 spectrum.

Another new enhancement for the Snapdragon X65 is in terms of power efficiency thanks to new features that are part of the PowerSave 2.0 technology. The modem now supports UE-Assisted Information, where the device and the base station can exchange information to automatically adjust things like the number of carriers, bandwidth, and thermal performance on the fly for different situations.

As a reminder, the Snapdragon X65 modem is already being sampled to customers and is expected to debut in devices later this year. As for the M.2 reference designs for the Snapdragon X62 and X65 modems, they're also available to customers right now, so they can start building their own cards based on them.

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