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Manufacturers ignoring 5G functions on Qualcomm chips

by on27 February 2020

Just because Qualcomm insists does not mean we have to use it

Phones are starting to trickle onto the market with Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 865 SoC with 5G functionality, however manufacturers are reluctant to switch it on yet.

For example the "iQoo 3" phone ships the Snapdragon 865 in a first-ever "4G" configuration. Apparently, BBK subsidiary iQoo does all the work of paying for Qualcomm's mandatory 5G modem, integrating it into the phone design, and then the company just, uh, disables the 5G functionality completely.

A phone that ships with some of its modem features disabled is not unusual. Sometimes companies turn off some 4G bands to help region lock phones to certain countries or possibly to save costs. Turning off the 5G bands on a Snapdragon 865 phonemight make the phone less useful.  This is because the Snapdragon 865 does not have an onboard modem, and the only way to give this SoC cellular capabilities is to pair it with an external modem chip, the Qualcomm Snapdragon X55, which adds 4G and 5G connectivity. According to Ars Technica, external modems take up more space, run hotter, and use more power than an onboard modem, and to accept this compromise while not getting 5G is an arse.

iQoo's stance is logical India does not have 5G networks or a clear path to 5G. Most towers in India are not connected to fiber backhaul and probably can't handle the bandwidth demands of 5G. Fixing this requires even more money that the carriers say they don't have. In short, 5G ain't happening anytime soon in India.

Ars said that last year, Qualcomm had a more sensible, flexible design for its first-ever 5G compatible chip, the Snapdragon 855. That chip had an integrated 4G modem—needed in every single market—and had a separate 5G modem as an optional extra. 4G connectivity would be more power-efficient than 5G on the Snapdragon 855 because the 4G modem was integrated and the 5G modem was not. This year, Qualcomm "fixed" that power discrepancy by making 4G as bad as 5G and pulled both modems off the main chip.

iQoo is the latest brand launched by BBK, which is a company you can be forgiven for never having heard of. But if you combined the company's various operations, BBK is the world's second or third-biggest smartphone manufacturer. BBK is basically the General Motors of the smartphone world—a company that owns a million sub-brands targeted at various market segments and countries. You won't find a phone branded "BBK" in the market, but you've probably heard of OnePlus, Oppo, Vivo, and/or Realme, which are all brands in the BBK stable. Just like with GM, it's not uncommon for the brands to share technology, parts, and designs. With iQoo going the "disable 5G route", the other BBK sub-brands might find it an appropriate strategy for some devices, too. Another BBK brand, Realme, also took the odd step of launching a 5G phone (the Realme X50 Pro) in India this week.

Last modified on 27 February 2020
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