Qualcomm has spent most of the last year talking about Wi-Fi 7 and its benefits to consumers and enterprises. With its broad Wi-Fi 7 portfolio already in place, the company used its recent Wi-Fi 7 Day to share more details on the technology’s momentum and discuss its products and services rather than new chips.
Qualcomm is already shipping chips like the FastConnect 7800, which it initially launched as Wi-Fi 7 ready and which can be found in a multitude of smartphones that are already shipping (This includes the OnePlus 11 5G, which I reviewed earlier this year.) Qualcomm is looking to expand its Wi-Fi 7 portfolio into more platforms and services, including 10G Fiber and service-defined Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi 7 Momentum
At Wi-Fi 7 Day, Qualcomm talked about having more than 350 total designs across all categories between its FastConnect 7800 and Networking Pro Series as well as its immersive home platform. This broke down to about 190 FastConnect 7800 devices and 160 networking devices across mesh, gateways and enterprise platforms. Qualcomm has already built considerable momentum in Wi-Fi 7 early in the technology’s lifecycle. More broadly, the company has done a great job establishing itself as a Wi-Fi leader in general, having shipped over 7.5 billion Wi-Fi chipsets over the last decade.
To prove the point, Qualcomm had Acer and Eero on stage at the event to talk about how both companies value their partnerships with the company and how they leverage the Qualcomm Wi-Fi 7 technologies in their latest products. Acer discussed the Acer Swift Edge 16, an ultra-light and powerful notebook that is further empowered by the FastConnect 7800 to deliver high-speed and low-latency connectivity over Wi-Fi 7. Qualcomm also displayed an MSI gaming notebook as one example of already announced PCs with Wi-Fi 7.
All of the momentum wasn’t just on the device side. Qualcomm also announced partnerships with broadband providers EE and Charter. EE said that its next-gen home broadband product will feature Wi-Fi 7 and will launch in 2024. There are no specifics about whether this will be a mesh Wi-Fi product, but it was explicitly discussed as a “next-generation home broadband router” that “will feature Qualcomm Wi-Fi 7 platforms.” In addition to EE, Charter’s announcement talked about embracing Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi 7 platforms for its customers and next-generation Wi-Fi solutions. Charter’s Spectrum service already offers its Advanced Wi-Fi option at all levels of internet service, ranging from 300 Mbps up to its 1 Gbps plan, where available.
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A common thread across these service providers is that they are increasingly becoming their customers’ infrastructure provider as well. Many consumers associate their home Wi-Fi with internet connectivity even though the Wi-Fi is simply an extension of the service provider’s broadband. These days, the average consumer assumes that all Wi-Fi connectivity comes with internet connectivity and that both are managed by the same provider, even though that isn’t necessarily true. That said, for service providers like EE and Charter, it’s much easier to offer the Wi-Fi gateway and internet services as a single package because it gives them more visibility when an issue arises, plus they can better control firmware updates and security.
Operators like Charter and EE are moving more quickly towards Wi-Fi 7 to maximize the performance, coverage and manageability of their own networks as well as the networks of their customers. If a customer has been using an older gateway with an older standard of Wi-Fi and that results in a negative experience, the service provider wants to quickly move the customer to the latest technology. I expect Charter and EE to be followed quickly by other providers like Comcast and AT&T that also want to enhance the customer experience quickly.
Qualcomm welcomed another device partner—Pico—on stage to talk about XR’s challenges and how Qualcomm’s FastConnect 7800 and Wi-Fi 7 software help to address them. Richard Hsiao, at Pico, talked about the benefits of using the FastConnect Software Suite, which Qualcomm claims helps reduce latency by as much as 80% and power consumption by as much as 25%. Hsiao talked about three core XR use cases for Pico that leverage Wi-Fi with room for improvement needing lower latencies and better throughput. Those applications include anchored objects in mixed reality, PC or cloud streaming and instant screen-sharing from a phone or a laptop to a head-mounted display (HMD). These applications require sub-10-millisecond end-to-end latency to create a seamless real-time experience everywhere.
For Pico’s XR streaming test, the company was looking to achieve under 11ms to reach a 90-hertz refresh rate, an industry-accepted KPI for a good XR experience. Hsiao said it needed 150 Mbps to stream the 1696×1696 resolution in the headset and to achieve low jitter in both the transmit and receive packets to ensure timely decoding. For better interference reduction, Pico used Qualcomm’s FastConnect 7800 with High-Band Simultaneous (HBS) Wi-Fi 7 and Multi-Link Operation (MLO), a core Wi-Fi 7 feature. Pico tested its headset with a Qualcomm reference device and a PC and saw a 50% reduction in the mean latency and a 90% reduction in the standard deviation of latency, creating a better, more consistent experience. Pico takes this as good evidence of the effectiveness of both the FastConnect 7800 and the FastConnect Software Suite.
In addition to the FastConnect Software Suite, Qualcomm also introduced a framework for cloud-to-device services called Service-Defined Wi-Fi. This software can classify, prioritize and schedule traffic based on network conditions and application requirements using a combination of its current Wi-Fi gateways and a service-defined Wi-Fi cloud. It can then provide insights in real time to Qualcomm’s Service Defined Wi-Fi Cloud to continue orchestrating the network based on application demands and dynamically prioritizing traffic.
With this service-defined Wi-Fi solution, applications like HD video calls, 4K streaming, gaming and XR apps can all significantly reduce latency and jitter. I believe that operators that are embracing Qualcomm’s platform for Wi-Fi 7 will also want to deliver additional services on top of their gateways and connectivity with consumers. It is unclear how long it will take service providers and app developers to leverage the Service-Defined Wi-Fi capabilities, but it could deliver considerably better experiences for end-users, which is ultimately the goal that many of these operators aim for.
10G Fiber Gateway Platform
Last but certainly not least was Qualcomm’s introduction of its 10G Fiber Gateway solution, which combines 10 Gigabit fiber connectivity with Wi-Fi 7 for a complete solution that service providers can deploy for years to come. Wi-Fi 7 is a perfect pairing with Qualcomm’s 10G Fiber capabilities because Wi-Fi 7 is the best way to take advantage of the growing performance of Fiber as more providers offer 2 Gigabit, 5 Gigabit, and 10 Gigabit services. The 10G Fiber Gateway, like other Qualcomm Wi-Fi 7 gateways, will be able to take advantage of Service Defined Wi-Fi, which can help make the most of the considerably higher bandwidth that 10G Fiber can offer. Qualcomm says that both the 10G Fiber Gateway Platform and Service-Defined Wi-Fi will be commercially available by the summer of 2024.
Qualcomm has upped the ante on what’s possible for Wi-Fi with its Wi-Fi 7 offerings. This new connectivity standard is finally becoming a reality in so many ways, especially with leading brands like Eero already announcing their Wi-Fi 7 products this week. Intel also announced that its Meteor Lake PC platform will come with Wi-Fi 7, so there will be no shortage of devices from PCs and smartphones to XR devices and more.
Qualcomm has leaned even more into the software-defined world of networking and is embracing software-optimizations for many of its Wi-Fi 7 products to enhance the user experience and enable OEMs and service providers to deliver next-generation experiences. While Wi-Fi 6 may be good enough for many users, I do believe that Wi-Fi 7 and the additional capabilities and software solutions will bring many users into the modern era utilizing 6GHz spectrum and aggregating unlicensed spectrum in ways that improve throughput while also lowering latency.6g