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Huawei Joins 5G Modem Race

March 20, 2018

Author: Linley Gwennap

Already a developer of leading-edge smartphone processors including the Kirin 970, Huawei is charging into next-generation cellular with its first 5G modem. The Chinese company said it plans to ship the Balong 5G01 modem, which implements the 3GPP’s 5G-NR standard, this fall. One of the top three smartphone vendors worldwide, Huawei is also a global leader in cellular infrastructure equipment, so its 5G investments will pay off at both ends of the connection.

The company released few details on the 5G01 chipset, which its HiSilicon subsidiary designed. The modem has a peak data rate of 2.3Gbps, about half that of Qualcomm’s 5G-NR modem (Snapdragon X50) and barely ahead of the fastest possible LTE speeds. Huawei’s chipset supports both the sub-6GHz frequencies being implemented by China Mobile as well as the millimeter-wave bands favored in America, Korea, and Japan. The 5G01’s lower data rate is better suited to sub-6GHz deployment, which provides longer range but less bandwidth than millimeter wave.

Although the company withheld the exact package size, photographs of the modem chip show it’s about 30mm square and has a metal lid, implying that heat dissipation could be a problem. Given the 5G01’s massive size and (likely) power draw, Huawei plans to use the chip mainly in customer-premises equipment (CPE) for fixed-wireless broadband. It claims the Balong chipset is the industry’s first 5G modem, but other broadband companies will likely deploy their own ASICs in a similar timeframe. Qualcomm is instead focusing on phones for the X50, which is likely to appear in production devices in 1H19.

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