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10 May 2022

Qualcomm vyes with Broadcom for early leadership in WiFi 7 chips 

The fight is on for WiFi 7 chip superiority, especially between Broadcom and Qualcomm, and the latter set out its stall last week.  


WiFi 7 laptops and other products will not ship until late 2003 or early 2004, and the WiFi 7 standards are not yet finalized. However, chipmakers generally have to work on products before new standards are completed, to allow for their own development timescales and the time that their customers need to evaluate and purchase, well ahead of commercial launch dates.  


That evaluation process is particularly complex when a technology may be targeting mission-critical processes, as WiFi 7 aims to do, challenging or complementing 5G in enterprise or industrial networks that require critical connectivity.  

The art, for the chip companies, is to get ahead of competitors to score early mover advantage, but not to act so early that a prototype may have to be significantly reworked because the standards have changed so much between preliminary drafts and freezing. Broadcom, in the WiFi market, has been something of a master of this balancing act, and that helped it secure market leadership in the early generations of WiFi. 


As well as Broadcom and Qualcomm, Intel and MediaTek have discussed their WiFi 7 chipsets, and others are expected to join the race this year, including OnSemi, Maxlinear and Renesas, though some firms only do chips for devices or for access points, rather than both. 


Qualcomm is now sampling its WiFi 7 chipsets for access points, routers and carrier gateways, under the ‘Networking Pro Series Gen 3’ brand. It already unveiled its WiFi 7 offerings for the device side, Fast Connect 7800, in February. 


In April, Broadcom announced five chips that would target smartphones, and residential and enterprise access points. 


Qualcomm’s four new Networking Pro models for WiFi 7 are: 

  • Networking Pro 1620, a quad-band, 16-stream chip with 33Gbps capacity for large enterprise, stadium and premium home mesh systems. 
  • Networking Pro 1220, a tri-band 12-stream, 21Gbps chipset enterprise, SMB, prosumer and premium home mesh systems. 
  • Networking Pro 820, a quad-band, 8-stream, 13.7Gbps capacity for enterprise, SMB, prosumer and premium home mesh systems. 
  • Networking Pro 620, a tri-band, 6-stream, 10.8Gbps capacity for enterprise, SMB, gaming and home mesh systems. 


The launch comes three years after Qualcomm launched the Networking Pro series for WiFi 6, which the company says has scored more than 275 design wins. 


WiFi 7 chips can access a total of 1760 MHz of spectrum (compared to 560 MHz for WiFi 6) and maximum channel widths of 320 MHz (compared to 160 MHz for WiFi 6). The upcoming standard targets speeds of about 10Gbps per channel, and with multiple radios, the PHY rate will be around 33Gbps, up from 6Gbps for WiFi 6. WiFi 7 also employs 4K QAM (4096-QAM), a more efficient modulation scheme that delivers more bits per Hz than the 1024-QAM scheme used for WiFi 6. 


“We see WiFi 7 populating the higher tiers of Wi-Fi networking,” said Nick Kucharewski, general manager for wireless infrastructure and networking at Qualcomm. He said the  Pro platform can support over 500 users per band in a router, making it usable in large venues or enterprises. He expects to see products emerge that support all three WiFi bands (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 6 GHz) and also use multiple radios on those bands.  


He said the new line will also focus on the “deterministic latency” of WiFi 7 for interactive, low latency applications such as cloud gaming. 


The new chips, like Broadcom’s, will also support the new MultiLink capabilities of WiFi 7, which allow for connectivity and aggregation across two or more bands, a technique that is familiar in cellular but has not previously been used in WiFi.