One of Qualcomm's indisputable strengths are its 5G modems – something which even Apple has yet to successfully ween itself from. And while Qualcomm is not integrating a modem into its first-generation Oryon-based Snapdragon X chips, the company is still looking to leverage that technology advantage via discrete modems that can be installed in Snapdragon X laptops.

To date, Qualcomm has won 23 laptop designs with its Snapdragon X Elite SoCs, and all of the leading PC vendors have introduced systems based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon X Elite processors. However, only some of them will be equipped with modems, the company detailed at Computex 2024.

While the technical rationale for this is very straightforward (not every vendor wants to buy and dedicate the space to modems), it's still a bit of a surprise in as much as Qualcomm has traditionally heavily pushed laptop vendors to include their modems. But as the Snapdragon X has entered the picture, the joint Qualcomm/Microsoft always connected PC (ACPC) initiative is taking a back seat – meaning modems are no longer being pushed nearly as hard. In its place, the two companies have pivoted hard to equipping mainstream systems with the hardware needed for local AI processing (i.e. NPUs), and with it, Microsoft's Copilot+ PC branding.

Laptop manufacturers, in the meantime, are breathing a sigh of relief, as this switch to emphasizing AI comes at a much lower hardware cost, since vendors don't need to buy additional discrete hardware. Qualcomm for its part has never fully disclosed the full cost of including a Snapdragon modem with a laptop, but the total cost adds up quickly. Besides buying a discrete modem, device manufacturers also need to buy and integrate a 5G-capable radio frequency front end module (RF FEM), as well as the all-important antenna. And mmWave support of any kind can add another wrinkle, as multiple antennas at different orientations are needed to get the best results.

And while not said out-loud, Qualcomm's premium positioning strategy for 8cx-based laptops has not paid significant dividends. Snapdragon X laptops are being priced much more competitively, as Qualcomm is aiming to capture a meaningful share of the PC market – and high-cost features like modems would drive up the final price tag.

Still, virtually all Qualcomm representatives I talked to at Computex were happy to argue that an integrated modem is a huge benefit for their PCs, as they can get fast connectivity almost everywhere in the world instantly and not depend on Wi-Fi or even their smartphones. So the dream of widespread 5G-capable laptops is not dead at Qualcomm; it may just be delayed. In the meantime, for laptop buyers that do need or want a 5G modem, there will still be at least a few premium laptop models on store shelves with the necessary hardware.

Source: Qualcomm



View All Comments

  • ballsystemlord - Tuesday, June 11, 2024 - link

    Considering how expensive cellphone data rates are in the US, I'm actually happy to not have modems in laptops. They're paperweights to people like me. Reply
  • peterfares - Wednesday, June 12, 2024 - link

    Unless you're on Google Fi, a laptop with a modem doesn't make sense for most people.
    They're very expensive and laptops are rarely used where there isn't Wi-Fi available. And most people can just tether to their phones in those rare situations.
  • sharath.naik - Wednesday, June 12, 2024 - link

    I second that. I am traveling in India right now. For example even the 65$ unlimited is only limited to 50GB high speed (10$ per GB other wise). In India I can buy 50GB additional high speed data for less than 5$. Most have 1-3GB per day limit for high speed per day even for regular plans (not per month), which makes more sense as if you go over by accident you are reset for the next day. Reply
  • Mitch97122 - Wednesday, June 12, 2024 - link

    less than 12$ for 140G in France Reply
  • GeoffreyA - Wednesday, June 12, 2024 - link

    I think Free Mobile has an unlimited plan for about €35, isn't it? Reply
  • RaduR - Wednesday, June 12, 2024 - link

    5 EUR unlimted in Romania. Reply
  • GeoffreyA - Wednesday, June 12, 2024 - link

    Here in South Africa, one can get unlimited data all hours for about 45 USD, and unlimited from midnight to 7 p.m. for about 13 USD. The speed is limited, though, on these bundles, and throttles after 250 GB and even more after 300, I think. Reply
  • GeoffreyA - Wednesday, June 12, 2024 - link

    I should have put the "unlimited" in quotes! Reply
  • Eliadbu - Tuesday, June 25, 2024 - link

    Where I live 5G line plans can range in price from around 7$ for 50GB to around 22$ for 2TB, there are also plans for several lines with shared data cap. It all depends how competitive the market is - as we have 10 suppliers. Reply
  • MakaanPL - Wednesday, June 12, 2024 - link

    The US isn't the whole world. For example in Poland (EU) cellular data is relatively cheap, there are also "unlimited" plans for like $25-$30 per month. And in many cases you also get additional SIM card sharing the same plan or even the same number. Cut-throat competition makes wonders even in the EU.
    For us, 5G in the laptop could make sense if the price is reasonable like $150-$200 extra.

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