Qualcomm announces the Snapdragon 855 Mobile Platform to usher in our 5G future

The new chip brings multi-gigabit 5G, under-display fingerprint sensor technology, AR, and gaming performance improvements.
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer

For the next three days Qualcomm is holding its annual Snapdragon Summit in Maui, where the company is expected to reveal new and improved Snapdragon mobile processors, and with the help of carriers across the globe, layout plans for 5G networks heading into 2019.

During the keynote on Tuesday, Qualcomm unveiled the Snapdragon 855 Mobile Platform.

Qualcomm didn't go into too many details about the chip but did reveal the 855 will include 3D Sonic Sensor, an ultrasonic sensor, that makes it easier for phone makers to integrate fingerprint sensors under a phone's screen, improvements to gaming performance through a program it calls Elite Gaming, and improved AI integration for photography.

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Qualcomm's Snapdragon chips currently power over a billion phones ranging from entry-level devices to flagship models, which is undoubtedly what the Snapdragon 855 is destined for in the first quarter of 2019.

In fact, early Tuesday Samsung and AT&T announced the first 5G Samsung phone will be available on the carrier in the spring of 2019, or around the time that Samsung typically releases new Galaxy S models. Verizon also has plans with Samsung to carry the same phone.

A 5G capable Samsung Galaxy S10 with a fingerprint sensor under the display doesn't sound all that far-fetched after Tuesday's announcement.

Earlier this year, Motorola and Verizon announced a 5G Moto Mod that adds 5G connectivity to the Moto Z3, with anticipation of releasing the 5G Moto Mod in early 2019. Enabling 5G connectivity in the Modo Mod is Qualcomm's X50 modem, the same modem reportedly used by the Snapdragon 855.

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The biggest downside to all of these 5G announcements, be it from Qualcomm or Samsung or a wireless carrier, is the limited availability of 5G networks in the foreseeable future. Wireless carriers are slowly upgrading networks in select cities with 5G capabilities, meaning only a subset of customers will be able to actually use what's being positioned as life-changing connectivity.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

That said, 5G connectivity is just a few months away. AT&T and Verizon both have 5G networks set up in the hotel where the Qualcomm event is taking place, and using a reference device shown off on stage during the keynote, those in attendance will get to experience a 5G connection on a reference smartphone powered by the Snapdragon 855 platform.

Also included inside the reference 5G phone is Qualcomm's own RF antenna, QTM052, designed to help eliminate interference and signal issues common in phones when something as simple as holding the device occurs.

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For a brief moment, Qualcomm displayed a list of hardware makers who are working with the company's 5G technology. Those companies include HTC, Samsung, Google, Asus, LG, OnePlus, and Motorola. Notably, Apple was not on the list, but that shouldn't be a surprise. Apple has never been first when it comes to integrating new network technology in the iPhone, waiting for others to work out the initial issues such as battery life and overall impact on daily use.

Qualcomm is expected to reveal more details about the Snapdragon 855 and its features over the next few days from the summit.

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Qualcomm announces the Snapdragon 855 Mobile Platform to usher in our 5G future

The new chip brings multi-gigabit 5G, under-display fingerprint sensor technology, AR, and gaming performance improvements.

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