Earlier this month, I attended Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2022 in Barcelona, my first in-person MWC since the pandemic outbreak in 2020. I felt comfortable attending this year knowing that strict testing, masking and tracing requirements were in place. Out of the approximately 61,000 people who attended the show, I am personally only aware of only one positive COVID case reported in the days after and it doesn’t appear that COVID cases in Barcelona were affected at all, more than two weeks later. If that number holds up, I hope that this show can serve as a model for other events and how to hold them safely while Covid is still in the backdrop.
Today, though, I wanted to talk about the big mobile announcements (chipsets and devices) from MWC 2022, including those that were announced during the leadup to the event.
5G and Wi-Fi Chips Galore
MWC is traditionally where the mobile industry’s most prominent players announce the latest in mobile and infrastructure chips and the devices that leverage them. At MWC, all of the usual suspects were in attendance, but I would say Qualcomm had the biggest week of them all. Though the chipmaker announced new offerings across its Wi-Fi, 5G, XR and Automotive portfolios, this blog will focus on Wi-Fi 7 and 5G.
Qualcomm Snapdragon Connect, FastConnect 7800, Snapdragon X70, and more
Qualcomm unveiled Snapdragon Connect, a unifying brand that represents its best-in-class offerings across 5G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as the RF solutions that enable them all. This new branding and badge will exist across the many segments Qualcomm serves, including phones, PCs, gaming, XR, automotive and wearables. This aligns with the Snapdragon brand getting more prominence and unifying the different products that the company has created.
Qualcomm’s new FastConnect 7800 is the world's first Wi-Fi 7 chipset. Since it is already sampling to customers, it will likely also be the first to ship in devices in the second half of this year. The new Wi-Fi 7 subsystem features a shockingly high peak theoretical throughput of 5.8 Gbps, achieved through its aggregation of 5GHz and 6GHz spectrum. When 6GHz isn’t available, it peaks at 4.3 Gbps by aggregating two 160 MHz links (depending on spectrum availability). This multi-link technology enables the chipset to aggregate the performance of multiple concurrent channels to create more throughput or switch between streams for lower latency. It is also possible to use up to 320 MHz of spectrum in places like the 6GHz band, a technique that is gaining popularity worldwide as spectrum bodies search for the best way to make that spectrum available and deal with interference issues.
FastConnect 7800’s speeds are also aided by 4K QAM modulation, which Qualcomm alone supports (the rest of the industry still uses 1024 QAM). That said, I expect we'll see many of Qualcomm's competitors introduce 4K QAM with their own Wi-Fi 7 solutions once those come to market.
Another excellent capability of the FastConnect 7800 is its sub-2ms latency. This has many applications, but it is incredibly enticing for XR applications where wireless latency is crucial for features like split rendering. Qualcomm designed the FastConnect 7800 to maximize both Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 access points today, including features like 4-Stream DBS to enable new Windows Features like Wi-Fi Dual Station. There are immediate benefits to having the FastConnect 7800 in devices later this year, even if Wi-Fi 7 access points aren't expected until sometime mid-next year (including the reduced power consumption and improved latency). In addition to all that, the FastConnect 7800 also has dual-stream Bluetooth 5.3 connectivity. Qualcomm says this increases both range and pairing distance by up to 2x while also consuming 50% less power. The company also introduced two new Snapdragon Sound chips for wearables, the Snapdragon Sound S3 and S5, which will pair with devices featuring the FastConnect 7800 and take advantage of the new capabilities afforded by the new chipset. I'm very excited to see what kind of devices will ship with the FastConnect 7800 later this year.
Nearly every year now, Qualcomm gives us a new 5G modem. The latest, the Snapdragon X70, is the company's 5th generation 5G modem built on a 4nm process node. While the Snapdragon X70 doesn't necessarily increase the throughput beyond the current 10 Gbps peak speed set by the X65, it introduces for the first time built-in onboard AI for optimization of the modem's performance. The X70 uses a multitude of AI features to improve the overall user experience on a 5G device, including:
1. Channel-state feedback and dynamic optimization to improve overall power and signal
2. mmWave beam management to improve 5G mmWave coverage
3. network selection for superior mobility and link robustness
4. adaptive antenna tuning for up to 30% improved context detection for higher speeds and coverage
The Snapdragon X70 also features 4X carrier aggregation across both TDD, FDD, mmWave and Sub-6 spectrum. Additionally, it features the 3rd generation of the company’s 5G PowerSave, which, when paired with its QET7100 wideband envelope tracker, can reduce power consumption and extend battery life even further.
MediaTek Dimensity 8000, 8100 and 1300
MediaTek was also present at MWC 2022, giving demos of its Wi-Fi 7 technology to partners and the press. Late last year, the company introduced its new flagship processor, the Dimensity 9000, which comes to market this week inside the Oppo Find X5 Dimensity Edition in China. Notably, this is the first time the Dimensity 9000 will have a chance to go head-to-head with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. At MWC 2022, MediaTek also introduced three new members of the Dimensity family: the Dimensity 1300, 8000 and Dimensity 8100. The Dimensity 1300 is a minor improvement with a slight tweak to add 10% more AI performance over the 1200 and will continue to ship the mid-range chip in high volumes as the company's lineup expands.
TSMC manufactures MediaTek's Dimensity 8000 and 8100 using its 5nm process node (compared to the Dimensity 9000's 4nm and the Dimensity 1200's 6nm process node). This is somewhat of an early indication of where the new 8000 series will lie in the existing product lineup. The Dimensity 8000 and 8100 will feature ARM's last generation Cortex A78 CPU cores instead of its latest ARM v9-based A710 cores. However, they will clock higher speeds than the Dimensity 1200's 2.6 GHz. The 8000 features a clock speed of 2.75 GHz and the 8100 comes in at 2.85 GHz. Additionally, neither the 8000 nor the 8100 will have any prime cores clocked higher, unlike the Dimensity 1200 and the Cortex X2 inside the Dimensity 9000. The Dimensity 8000 and 8100 also support LPDDR5, compared to the Dimensity 9000’s support for LPDDR5X and the Dimensity 1200’s support for LPDDR4X. Storage support remains UFS 3.1 across the board for all SoCs, from the Dimensity 1200 to the Dimensity 9000.
When it comes to the GPU, the Dimensity 8000 features Arm's Mali-G610 MC6 GPU, compared to the Dimensity 1200's G77 M9 and the Dimensity 9000's G710 MC10. The Dimensity 8100 has a 20% higher clocked version of the Mali G610, which helps to further differentiate it from the Dimensity 8000. As far as the ISP goes, the Dimensity 8000 and 8100 support up to 200MP images and have a 5 Gpixel/s pipeline. Additionally, they support 4K at 60 FPS with HDR10+ and dual recording, while the Dimensity 9000 adds triple recording.
On the 5G side, the Dimensity 8000 and 8100 both support a maximum downlink throughput of 4.7 Gbps, compared to the Dimensity 9000’s 7 Gbps downlink. Like the Dimensity 9000, the Dimensity 8000 and 8100 also feature Wi-Fi 6E support (the Dimensity 1200 only supports Wi-Fi 6). The Dimensity 8000 and 8100 also match the 9000’s Bluetooth 5.3 support, an upgrade from the Deminsity 1200’s Bluetooth 5.2. I believe the Dimensity 8000 series helps fill a crucial gap in MediaTek's lineup, allowing it to ship in the higher-end mid-range devices—the ones that aren’t quite flagship-tier, but require more features than what the Dimensity 1300 provides.
5G Devices at MWC 2022
There was no shortage of 5G devices at MWC 2022. It was a coming out party of sorts for the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, which will be shipping in many devices from many vendors. There were also other devices of note from TCL, Lenovo, and Samsung that caught my attention. Realme launched the Realme GT 2 Pro, which was very well received by the press thanks to its many improvements over the Realme GT. Poco, a Xiaomi subsidiary, did a big launch at MWC this year (Xiaomi, who launched a flagship device at my last MWC, did not). Unfortunately, neither the new Poco X4 Pro 5G and Poco M4 Pro will be available in North America, forgoing it to focus on Europe and Asia. Honor launched its Magic4 Pro smartphone, which features Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor and unique camera system. Honor’s Magic V foldable, launched only a few weeks earlier in China, was also available for the press to play with. Honor also teased that the Magic 4 Pro will feature 100W wired and wireless charging.
Oppo launched the Find X5 Pro, featuring the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, immediately before MWC 2022. I got mine shipped to me while I was at the show, and will have my review ready in the next few weeks. The device will not be available in the US, but is now on sale in Europe. Oppo has a history of showing off its latest innovations at MWC, and this year was no exception. The company teased its next generation of SuperVOOC wired fast charging technology, which will come in the form of 150W wired charging in the next generation of OnePlus' devices. Oppo also teased a prototype of its 240W charging, capable of charging a phone to 100% in 9 minutes flat. Since this was just a prototype, it is unclear when this technology would come to market. That said, Oppo has been a leader in fast charging, and was among the first in the world to adopt fast charging in its phones.
Phones weren't the only exciting devices announced at MWC 2022. Samsung didn't launch any phones at MWC, but it did announce a few new PCs based on Intel's 12th Gen processors. These included the new Galaxy Book2 Pro and Galaxy Book2 Pro 360. I was far more interested in the Book2 Pro because it looked and felt like a regular high-end PC while somehow weighing less than two pounds—a very welcome spec for any PC. The Pro 2 comes in 13.3" and 15.6" sizes, and ships with Intel Arc discrete Graphics. As far as weight goes, the Book2 Pro 13.3" weighs a paltry 0.87kg or 1.91 pounds. The 15.6" version with integrated graphics comes in at an equally impressive 2.44 lbs., while the version with Intel Arc discrete graphics totals 2.57 lbs. All sizes have a 1080P display and feature Wi-Fi 6E connectivity.
The 15.6" version also comes with an optional 5G modem, which, in my opinion, makes it the ultimate lightweight productivity anywhere machine. I’m also pretty excited about Lenovo's X13s, the first Lenovo ThinkPad with an Arm processor, the Snapdragon 8CX Gen 3, which Qualcomm announced late last year at its Snapdragon Tech Summit in Hawaii. The 8CX Gen 3, featuring a 5nm SoC, is a significant improvement over the previous generation, with a purported 85% better CPU performance and a 60% better GPU performance.
While TCL didn’t announce any new smartphones at MWC 2022, the company did launch its TCL 30 Series lineup for Europe. The company did show off its latest 5G CPE and 5G mobile hotspot powered by MediaTek’s T750, which has been very popular for these applications. TCL also showed off all of its different foldable concepts in a suite and while it hasn’t announced anything, seems to be inching towards a launch. A lot of people are excited to see TCL join the foldable fray and help to promote competition and improve consumer choice.
Despite contact tracing, masking and vaccine verification/negative testing, MWC 2022 was a welcome return to semi-normality. I was thankful to see so many of my friends and colleagues from around the world. With 61,000 attending, I thought the show was the perfect size (compared to the 109,000 in attendance at the last in-person MWC in 2019). I think MWC 2022 made it clear who the big players in the mobile industry are today. The continued momentum of 5G was also on full display, with the new classes of 5G and Wi-Fi products. It's a shame that Apple didn't launch the iPhone SE at MWC; it would've been a perfect way to suck all the air out of the room. I think it was a lost opportunity for them, strategically. That said, I am still very excited about the industry's momentum overall and many of these companies are quite happy that Apple didn’t. Competition is ripe and innovation is happening at a rapid pace, even if it doesn't always feel like it. I look forward to more in-person, semi-normal events as the year progresses.