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Qualcomm may soon power your smartphone’s entire communications system

Qualcomm's RF360 Front End system is expected to arrive to the first handsets later this year, bringing Qualcomm into the RF components market and effectively meaning that they will now provide all the chips needed to power your phone's communication system.
February 7, 2014

There’s no denying that Qualcomm is the most influential processor maker in the mobile world, despite Nvidia and Intel’s best attempts. Part of what has made Qualcomm so successful is that they have their hand in just about every part of a phone’s design from processing to their communication system.

One of the few areas where Qualcomm hasn’t been involved is in the RF components that reside between the baseband and antenna, but this could be changing soon enough. Typically these components have come from companies like Avago Technologies and RF Micro Device, but Qualcomm is preparing its own competing product, called RF360.

RF360 was actually announced last February, but the process of getting it off the ground has been a little slow going.

The RF360 could mean that we are one step closer to a truly global handset.

The technology behind RF360 actually is made up of four different components that have yet to be paired together: an envelope tracker, antenna tuner, a power amplifier and the RF pop. The former two of these components have already been used in real products: the Nexus 5 and Note 3 have the RF360’s envelope tracker and the Nokia Lumia 1520 has the antenna tuner.

The real heart of the RF360 system, however, is the RF Pop. This 3D circuit can support up to 40 different 2G, 3G and LTE bands when paired with Qualcomm’s baseband chips — though it’s not quite capable of supporting them all at the same time. Aside from the advantage of supporting a wide range of bands, the RF360 system is said to consume less power and take up less space than most existing solutions.

This new circuit is expected to join the rest of the components to form the RF360 system and the first handsets with the technology will make their way out to the market by the year’s end. What makes the existence of the RF360 so significant for manufacturers is that it means we are one step closer to a truly global handset. In other words, device makers who utilize the RF360 will be able to cut down the number of separate regional variants by at least a third. Less variants mean less manufacturing time and likely will led to less costs.

While this might not immediately affect consumers, it’s still a pretty important breakthrough and could even have positive effects on battery life while giving handset makers more room for other important components and features.