Qualcomm's X24 has a top download speed that's twice as fast as Google Fiber.Qualcomm’s X24 has a top download speed that’s twice as fast as Google Fiber.

Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

You future smartphone could be ridiculously fast even without 5G.

That’s the promise of Qualcomm’s latest LTE chip: the Snapdragon X24, which the company says is capable of hitting blazing-fast download speeds of up to 2 gigabits per second. 

Now, as we’ve noted before, the company’s touted top speed is more of a best case scenario, rather than a guarantee. There are many other factors that determine network speeds other than the modem. 

Even so, there’s a good reason to be at least cautiously optimistic about Qualcomm’s latest milestone: it’s a very good sign for the future of 5G.

At this point, you might be wondering why a company that’s going all-in on 5G is bothering to keep investing in LTE chips. But, it turns out upgrading LTE is an important part of our 5G future.

Just last week, Qualcomm announced that it’s on schedule to bring the first 5G phones to market in 2019, thanks to a slew of new partnerships with HTC, LG, and other handset makers. But even though the earliest 5G networks will allegedly be ready in 2019, the reality is that it will take much longer before 5G is widely available and supported. 

LTE is an important part of our 5G future

Even Qualcomm is quick to admit that early 5G networks will likely have their share issues, just as the first LTE and 3G networks did. Because of this, the first couple generations of 5G phones will still rely, at least in part, on LTE connections (just as phones now occasionally switch over to 3G when conditions are poor).

But since 5G speeds will be so much faster than the LTE we’re used to — even 1gbps is 51 times faster than the average speed of the fastest LTE network in the United States — that drop could be even more painful than getting stuck on 3G is today. 

That’s where the X24 comes in. By being able to support both 5G and super-fast LTE connections, devices will be able to more seamlessly make that tradeoff between 5G and LTE since the speeds will — hopefully — be more comparable.

Of course, over time carriers will improve their infrastructure and phone makers will beef up their hardware making these kinds of handoffs less and less necessary over time. But that transition is likely to take much longer than a year or two. In the meantime, upgrading LTE might be the next, best option.