The chip is based on its X51 modem, which supports data rates up to 2.5 Gbps and upload speeds of 660 Mbps. The chip can connect to 5G networks in any part of the world where its customers sell phones. Qualcomm said it can handle transmissions based on TDD—which are used to funnel data over the same frequency using slightly different time slots—or FDD standards—used to relay data over slightly different frequencies at the same time.
There are tradeoffs, however. The Snapdragon 690 chip connects to 5G networks based on the sub-6 frequency bands. The chip is incapable of connecting to millimeter waves, which support faster data transfers but struggle to reach over long distances. These signals can also be deflected by physical obstacles unless advanced cellular antennas are crammed around the sides of the phone. The problem is that these parts are costly, analysts say.
The San Diego, California-based company is looking to lure customers that sell midrange and budget smartphones as a way to start selling higher volumes of its 5G modem chips.
Olivier Blanchard, senior analyst at Futurum Research, said that "not everyone wants to or can afford to dish out upwards of $1,000 for premium smartphones every 2 to 3 years." He said that while "sales of premium-priced flagship handsets still look strong, consumers are increasingly looking for better value in their smartphone and can now readily find it in the $400 to $800 range and below."
Steve Mollenkopf, Qualcomm's chief executive, said last month that its roadmap for the rollout of 5G networks was unchanged. But he warned some of its customers could delay product launches due to fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting drop in demand. Qualcomm said it has not changed its 2020 estimate for global shipments of 5G phones. Last year, the company said 175 million to 225 million units would be sold globally.
The share of smartphones shipped with 5G modems in the first quarter of 2020 was 8%, up from 1% a year ago, said Varun Mishra, a smartphone analyst at Counterpoint Research.