Skip to main content

This tiny dongle will change 5G connectivity forever

TCL Linkkey IK511 5G Dongle against a blue background.

TCL is having a busy start to 2024. First, it announced a staggering number of new smartphones and two new tablets at CES, and now it’s unveiling something else at MWC 2024 — one of the world’s first 5G dongles that takes advantage of the latest power-efficient 5G standards.

TCL Mobile’s Linkkey IK511 is a pocketable new 5G adapter that’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X35 5G Modem-RF system, which debuted last year as the first 5G modem to support the new NR-Light “RedCap” standard.

5G for everyone, everything, everywhere

TCL Linkkey IK511 5G Dongle.
TCL Linkkey IK511 TCL

RedCap is short for “reduced capability,” and while that may not sound like what you want from a 5G modem, it’s actually a good thing as it fills an important void and promises to bring 5G to a whole new class of devices.

While Qualcomm’s flagship modem chips, like the new Snapdragon X80, are incredible powerhouses, great power comes with great energy consumption. That’s fine for something like a Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra. Still, not every device needs to achieve the insanely fast 5G speeds delivered by mmWave networks and new technologies like 5G Carrier Aggregation. These premium chips also don’t come cheap.

There’s more to 5G than just raw speed. A higher capacity allows more devices to stay connected in busy places, and low latency means that you get much fasters response time on all the little back-and-forth things that most of us do much more often — such as instant messaging, checking social media, and receiving notifications. Plus, 4G/LTE networks won’t be around forever.

The result is that there are whole classes of devices that need 5G connectivity, but can’t handle the power requirements of a smartphone or tablet 5G modem. Qualcomm’s X35 was initially heralded as a 5G modem chip to power the next generation of smartwatches. That will still likely be the most common use case, but as TCL’s new Linkkey IK511 proves, it’s not the only one.

Connecting the unconnected

TCL Linkkey IK512 5G dongle on a table plugged into a laptop that someone is typing on.
TCL Linkkey IK512 TCL

While pricing has yet to be announced, the Linkkey IK511 promises to deliver a more affordable way for users to move away from 4G/LTE networks and enjoy the benefits of 5G. The reduced capabilities also mean reduced costs, but for most folks, the IK511 should deliver more than enough performance for everyday use, as the RedCap standard is still capable of delivering download speeds of up to 150Mbps and upload speeds reaching 50Mbps.

To put that in perspective, a 4K UHD stream from Netflix only requires 15Mbps of bandwidth, while even the highest-0quality streaming services, like Disney+ and Apple TV+, peak at around 40Mbps.

TCL hopes its new 5G dongle will help to democratize 5G. “Together with Qualcomm Technologies, TCL will bring 5G to more customers and help to mark a new chapter in the future of connectivity and interconnected devices, to accelerate global connectivity,” said Jesse Wu, TCL’s general manager of Smart Connected Devices.

TCL Linkhub HH132 Pro on living room table beside two people sitting on a couch in the background.
TCL Linkhub HH132 Pro TCL

The Linkkey IK511 joins the more powerful Linkkey IK512, which is designed for situations that require more bandwidth. It supports 5G speeds of up to 2.46Gbps, along with the Linkhub HH132 Pro router for delivering fixed wireless access (FWA) to homes and small businesses. While TCL says the Linkkey IK512 will be available in Europe later this year, pricing and availability for the IK511 hasn’t yet been confirmed.

Editors' Recommendations

Jesse Hollington
Jesse has been a technology enthusiast for his entire life — he probably would have been born with an iPhone in his hand…
T-Mobile’s 5G is still unmatched — but have speeds plateaued?
Woman holding up smartphone with speed test results on Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband network.

Each time a new analysis of mobile network performance gets published, it’s almost a given that we’ll see T-Mobile leading the pack in terms of delivering the fastest 5G speeds. After all, the “Un-carrier” had a massive lead in deploying its 5G networks — and it hasn’t been resting on its laurels.

However, its competitors haven’t been sitting still either. While Verizon may have been starting from behind, it’s been aggressively deploying the faster 5G spectrum that gave it a nice leap in 5G performance last year. Still, Verizon and AT&T are lagging quite a bit in overall mobile network performance, and AT&T has fallen even farther behind when it comes to delivering the best 5G speeds across the nation.

Read more
Here’s how fast 5G on your Samsung Galaxy S23 really is
Samsung Galaxy S23 cameras against greenery

If you’ve been on the fence about picking up one of the latest Galaxy S23 phones, some new research from Ookla may help tip the scales in Samsung’s favor.

In a new speed test report, Ookla tcompared the 5G performance specs of the Galaxy S23 models to last year’s Galaxy S22 in several countries — with some surprising results across the board.
A worthwhile 5G upgrade

Read more
What is 5G UW? The real meaning behind the icon on your phone
Woman holding up smartphone with speed test results on Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband network.

You've probably noticed that there's been much more hype around 5G than for any of the wireless technologies that came before. Some of that is just marketing, of course; we are living in an increasingly connected era, and there are far more people toting smartphones now than there were in 2012 when 4G/LTE was just beginning to go mainstream. However, it's also not an exaggeration to say that with considerably faster speeds and the ability to handle many more devices, 5G is a much bigger step into the next stage of global connectivity. You've also probably noticed it yourself with a "5G UW" icon at the top of your phone.

As with most new technologies, 5G comes with some new challenges for both carriers and consumers. One of the most significant of these has been working out the best way to deploy 5G services across the much wider range of frequencies that it's capable of operating on. This wasn't nearly as significant a problem in the days of 3G and 4G/LTE services, which all operated in a much narrower range of radio spectrum.

Read more