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6 September 2019

Qualcomm unveils WiFi 6 platform for handsets and smart home

Qualcomm has unveiled a series of platforms to propel next generation WiFi 6 connectivity into the mainstream. Prominent features of the new line of Networking Pro Series offerings include support for 1024QAM modulation in WiFi 6 (802.11ax), which enables up to 38% higher raw throughput compared to WiFi 5 (802.11ac), as well as Qualcomm’s multi-use scheduling algorithms, which the company claims provide a differentiated form of traffic management for WiFi.

Building on two technologies fundamental to WiFi 6 – Multiuser-MIMO and OFDMA – Qualcomm says networks built on one of its four new platforms can set a new benchmark for prioritizing access for large numbers of connected clients.

This is because the Networking Pro Series Platforms support MU-MIMO in the uplink and downlink across all bands, ensuring up to 12 independent chains of WiFi to connect MU-MIMO-capable clients simultaneously. OFDMA is supported in the uplink and downlink across all bands, capable of accommodating 37 users per 5 GHz channel.

The Pro Series Platforms portfolio includes the 1200, 800, 600 and 400, named to represent the number of spatial streams of WiFi 6 connectivity supported by each one (the 1200 supports 12 streams, 800 supports eight and so on). All are powered by a quad-core A53 ARM processor ranging from 1 GHz to 2.2 GHz clock speed.

It was only two months ago that the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) published its 40-page set of guidelines for WiFi 6 – aiming to familiarize service providers with the taste of the next generation wireless technology in this critical period amid 5G network roll-outs.

WiFi 6 is designed to improve the experience of a large number of concurrent users significantly, leveraging multiple specific design principles. This will boost efficiency and reduce the number of business support systems (BSS) and backhaul resources required for a given coverage area. The introduction of uplink multiple user access, including both UL OFDMA and UL MU-MIMO, will especially enable more concurrent accesses to the radio resources, according to the WBA.

The UL OFDMA and UL MU-MIMO technologies are cited throughout the report, credited for boosting power and range, with higher spectral efficiency – for example proving ideal for use in stadium builds, where it is common to limit the end user to speeds to just 2Mbps to 5Mbps, but where the need to upload video is rising.

Qualcomm’s WiFi 6 platforms also boast its “high differentiated maximum user networking architecture”, which has been designed to associate and maintain connectivity for up to 1,500 clients at a time.

Also at the company’s dedicated WiFi 6 Day was the launch of a new subsystem called the FastConnect 6800, the upgraded version of FastConnect 6200, with support for key WiFi 6 components like 1024QAM and OFDMA. FastConnect 6800 will feature in a forthcoming Snapdragon chipset, bringing combined cellular and WiFi 6 support to more handsets – currently the only Snapdragon-powered smartphone in this category is the Samsung Galaxy S10.

Lee Jong-Pil, VP at Korea Telecom’s Institute of Convergence Technology, commented at the launch: “Through our collaboration with Qualcomm, we ushered in a new era of super-fast and ultra-reliable mobile connectivity with the world’s first nationwide 5G cellular network. With the new WiFi 6 networking platform, we’ll be able to accelerate our time-to-market leadership and overall availability of WiFi 6 in South Korea, providing our customers with a seamless, next generation, connected experience, whether they’re using 5G on-the-go or WiFi at a busy hotspot.”

Hardware makers Belkin and Netgear also came out in support, with the latter referencing its Orbi WiFi 6 Mesh product powered by Qualcomm. In the race to deliver tri-band WiFi 6 routers to market, Arris made a recent claim that competing manufacturers cut corners and put older WiFi 5 or 802.11n technology on some of the bands, so their devices don’t deliver the full advantages or speeds that the technologies promise. It looks as though Netgear has responded to that claim with its latest Orbi offering.

The stakes are high, with smart home WiFi devices projected to triple to 17bn units by 2030 from 5bn today, according to recent research from Strategy Analytics, with WiFi 6 accounting for about one-third of smart home devices by that time.