Qualcomm announced its first commercial 5G modem - the X50 - in 2016. As we roll into 2019 we're going to see, according to Qualcomm, in excess of 30 5G devices launched on its hardware, from over 20 different operators and OEMs.
While the X50 modem will deliver 5G, it is first generation hardware and there will be future 5G standards that it doesn't support.
However, Qualcomm has announced the new Snapdragon X55 modem, which is designed to support everything, from the initial roll-out of 5G networks in 2019, to the future networks being built.
For those interested in the technical details, the new 7nm modem will support download speeds of up to 7Gbps and uploads of 3Gbps (compared to 2.5Gbps speeds on 4G, although all are "theoretical" speeds).
The X55 modem supports Sub-6 and mmWave, TDD and FDD modes and works on both standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) networks. It's in these details that it differs from the existing X50 modem that we'll see in the first 5G devices. The new X55 is designed as a global device modem with support for everything.
The existing X50 doesn't support FDD (frequency division duplex) - which allows for upload and download on the same frequency spectrum at the same time - or SA networks - which are new 5G networks that aren't supported by 4G (5G and 4G together is a non-standalone network, expected to be first as carriers reuse spectrum).
So why is Qualcomm launching a new modem just as we're about to see the launch of the first-gen 5G devices? The X50 modem is designed for smartphones and hotspots and is perfectly suited to that - but in the words of Qualcomm - "it's not necessarily the best architecture" for other devices.
Those other devices will include things like laptops, cars and industrial modules, which the X55 is better placed to support.
Does that mean you should avoid first-gen devices? No, you shouldn't. The networks that the X55 supports have not yet been deployed, so for the average early-adopter of 5G, you'll be able to enjoy all the speed and connectivity advantages from these initial devices without worrying about future standard support.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 is now in sampling stages and you can expect to see it appearing in devices from late in 2019.