Just because true 5G wireless is edging closer doesn’t mean that 4G’s peak speeds can’t improve in the meantime. Qualcomm has unveiled a new LTE modem, the Snapdragon X20, that promises 1.2Gbps download speeds on mobile devices. That’s 20 percent faster than the company’s previous best, and enough to make even landline services like Google Fiber seem a bit pokey. The X20 manages the feat through more aggressive carrier aggregation (which bonds carrier frequency ranges) that lets it download 12 unique data streams of up to 100Mbps each. Upload speeds are healthy, too, at 150Mbps.
There are a few other party tricks. Qualcomm’s new chip supports the 3.5GHz airspace used by Citizens Broadband Radio Service in the US, which opens the door to private LTE networks. It can also handle high-quality LTE phone calls on dual SIM phones, which is particularly handy in China and other countries where dual-line phones are relatively commonplace.
Unfortunately, you’re going to have to wait to see what this modem can do. Samples of the X20 are available to device makers now, but the first shipping products aren’t expected until the first half of 2018. It’s just as well, though, when the most advanced LTE networks tend to stop at ‘just’ hundreds of megabits per second these days. And of course, the likelihood of hitting 1.2Gbps on a compatible carrier will be small unless you’re close to an uncongested cell tower. It’s better to think of this as laying groundwork for a transition — Qualcomm will be ready to tide you over with breakneck LTE speeds while you wait for meaningful 5G coverage.