Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 SoC and the company’s unhindered domination power over the mobile industry has come to a head with Snapdragon 865. With this chip, Qualcomm is putting the pressure of 5G on everyone which would increase the size, price and the inconvenience of smartphones. Since Qualcomm took off with its design of no LTE modem in the Snapdragon 865; from now on, nearly every flagship Android phone will be a 5G phone in 2020 and putting the 5G and 4G on a giant extra chip means smartphones are going to use way more power than usual, irrespective of which network one is connected to. While this happens, it is important to note that 5G networks are only going to be in their infancy stage in 2020 since the Indian market is still not fully equipped to roll out 5G in the near future.
The whole reason a modern smartphone works so well is because of the SoC, the System on a Chip. This makes up for one of the biggest reasons why the early 5G hardware from Qualcomm wouldn’t work for the Indian market as the network it supports hardly exists and the hardware also requires a significant amount of compromises to be made in the smartphone designs.
The first 4G phones that were shipped with separate modems, like the HTC Thunderbolt, were legendary disasters. Qualcomm’s 2019 5G package was the Snapdragon 855 with a separate X50 modem, and those were disasters, too. While this has mainly been seen as an issue with 5G phones, the Snapdragon’s 865 can very well make it an issue with all the flagship phones, even when using 4G LTE. With Qualcomm’s previous designs- with its onboard 4G modem and the extra 5G chip- one could turn off the extra 5G chip and just use the SoC’s onboard modem with the usual power-saving, however with the Snapdragon 865, that option has also been thrown out of the window. With no onboard modem at all, even with 4G-only mode, one would end up using more power by needing to light-up the second chip. Turning off the 5G bands on a Snapdragon 865 phone is as it is tough to come to terms with, because the SoC’s design and performance was compromised just to bring this 5G capability to market. Qualcomm swayed back years of SoC progress just by building the Snapdragon 865 without an onboard modem, and the only way to award this SoC cellular capabilities is to pair it with an external modem chip that would add 4G and 5G connectivity. This has in turn just added on to the reasons why Snapdragon 856 has been a mistake.
External modems take up more space, run hotter, and also use up more power than the onboard modem while accepting this as a compromise it would have been a better deal to get 5G with it, however, that is not the case. Along with this compromise, not getting 5G seems like a really bad bet to place.
India is the world’s second-largest smartphone market behind China and is also considered as a major battleground for smartphone manufacturers. However, unlike in places like the United States, where tiny developments of 5G have already begun at a starter pace, India does not have a clear path to 5G. In the Indian context, the prices at which the auction for the public spectrum of 5G are placed at, it is said to be prohibitively expensive and Indian carriers aren’t willing to pay the prices to buy the spectrum to begin to build the networks in the first place. Most towers in India are not connected to fiber backhaul and probably can’t handle the bandwidth demands of 5G. Fixing this would need even more money.
Earlier, Qualcomm had a more sensible, flexible design for its first-ever 5G compatible chip, the Snapdragon 855. The chip had an integrated 4G modem- needed in every single market- and also had a separate 5G modem as an optional extra. 4G connectivity would have been more power-efficient than 5G on the Snapdragon 855 because the 4G modem was integrated and the 5G modem was not. However, now Qualcomm fixed that power discrepancy by making 4G as bad as 5G and pulled both modems off the main chip and ruined the game for themselves even more.