The Mobile World Congress returned for the first large-scale live tech event since before the COVID-19 pandemic, and this time brought with it a host of significant Wi-Fi related announcements.
Mobile World Congress 2022 Ushers in a New Era—In More Ways Than One
This year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2022 was noteworthy for many reasons, particularly since it was the first large-scale in-person tech event held since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago. Also significant was that it marked the first time MWC was used as the platform to launch the industry’s first chipset of a new Wi-Fi standard, specifically Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi 7 FastConnect 7800 chipset. MWC 2022 also provided further clarification on some of the forms that the convergence of Wi-Fi and cellular will take and gave an update on the penetration, or lack thereof, of Wi-Fi 6E into consumer devices.
Key Wi-Fi Announcements From the Event
Qualcomm’s unveiling of the industry’s first Wi-Fi 7 chipset, the Qualcomm FastConnect 7800, is unsurprisingly the most headline worthy wireless connectivity announcement that emerged from MWC 2022. The FastConnect 7800 promises data rates of up to 5.8 Gbps, 2 ms latency, and supports Qualcomm’s new Dual Bluetooth and Snapdragon Sound technologies. Introduced alongside the chipset was the High Band Simultaneous (HBS) Multi-Link technology, Qualcomm’s implementation of one of Wi-Fi 7’s key features, Multi-Link Operation (MLO). MWC 2022 also saw the introduction of the first Wi-Fi 7 standard 5G CPE product—the ZTE MC888 Flagship. The 5G Computer Premise Equipment (CPE) is housed in a “rocket-ship” style chassis that is designed to increase heat dissipation efficiency by 75% and comes with ZTE’s ‘smart antenna X technology’, which helps the 5G CPE achieve speeds of up to 10 Gbps.
Given that the Mobile World Congress is an event which is dedicated to the mobile industry, it wouldn’t be complete without the unveiling of some upcoming devices from smartphone manufacturers. New flagship smartphones unveiled this year included Realme’s first flagship phone, the Realme GT 2 Pro, the Honor Magic 4 Pro, and the Oppo Find X5 Pro (which was announced alongside the event). Yet, what is surprising is that all the flagship models announced at MWC 2022, which by definition are designed to push the envelope of tech within consumer smartphones, all lacked Wi-Fi 6E compatibility. Support for Wi-Fi 6E was to be found in many new laptop models launched at the event though, with Samsung’s Galaxy Book 2 Pro 360 and Lenovo’s ThinkPad T16 both supporting the latest Wi-Fi standard.
Attendees eager to discover more about the convergence between Wi-Fi and cellular would not be disappointed with MWC 2022, as this was a theme covered by many exhibitors. Intel chose to showcase their solution which built upon their proprietary ‘Double Connect’ technology (which powers two parallel Wi-Fi connections, 2.4 GHz, and either 5 GHz or 6 GHz, simultaneously on the same device) by adding additional support for 5G cellular. The configuration of these three radio connections, two Wi-Fi and one cellular, can be adjusted according to the demands. For the downloading or uploading of large files, a single aggregated stream can be used to achieve higher throughput, whilst for gaming or Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR) applications that require low latency, the utilization of separate simultaneous streams is better suited. Dynamic switching between 5G and Wi-Fi will allow cellular to act as a backup in the event that the Wi-Fi signal is lost. This technology was on display at MWC 2022 in the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s.
Also on the theme of Wi-Fi and 5G convergence, Cisco shared further details at MWC 2022 about ‘Cisco Private 5G’, a cloud-based managed private 5G subscription service that will integrate with Wi-Fi. Features that the service will offer include 5G- and Industrial-IoT network management and integration with Cisco’s identity and policy system, and it will be based on Open Radio Access Network (RAN) principles that drive the interoperability of multivendor cellular network equipment. To realize the service Cisco is partnering with system integrators, service providers and channel partners including Dish Networks, Logicalis, JMA Wireless, and Airspan Networks, with the latter two currently conducting customer trials. Similarly, Hewlett Packard Enterprise also discussed its private 5G offering, which will see private 5G equipment integrated into Aruba Wi-Fi infrastructure, with subscribers accessing the service via the company’s Edge-to-Cloud platform HPE GreenLake. Aside from the above, MWC 2022 also exhibited other technologies that are driving Wi-Fi Cellular convergence, with Tessares demonstrating handover performance with their “over the core” ATSSS solution.
Reading Between the Lines
The announcement of the industry’s first Wi-Fi 7 chipset is significant for several reasons. Firstly, it has heralded the accelerated the arrival of Wi-Fi 7. The power of Wi-Fi 7 is set to revolutionize applications that demand extreme high throughput and ultra-low latency, and so Wi-Fi 7’s earlier arrival will help empower applications such as AR/VR, gaming, and 8K streaming. Although the final standard is not expected to be released by the Wi-Fi Alliance until 2024, we will likely see an array of Wi-Fi 7 ready consumer devices hit the market whilst the standard is still in draft phase, as was the case with prior generations of Wi-Fi. This means that early Wi-Fi 7 devices will arrive as early as the end of 2022. Already, ZTE has projected that their MC888 Flagship 5G CPE could be in the homes of consumers by the end of 2022.
It’s not just the content of Qualcomm’s announcement that is significant, but also the context. This is the first time that the MWC, an event dedicated to the mobile industry, has been used as the launchpad to unveil the first chipset of a new Wi-Fi standard. In the past, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) served as the venue for the reveal of both the first Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6E chipsets (the former being announced by Broadcom just prior to CES 2012, and chipsets of the latter standard being launched by both Broadcom and Celeno at CES 2020). In 2016 Quantenna chose the Broadband World Forum as the platform to launch the industry’s first Wi-Fi 6 chipset. Yet Qualcomm’s choice of MWC to unveil the first Wi-Fi 7 standard chipset made sense as it was partnered alongside the introduction of Qualcomm’s ‘Snapdragon Connect’ badge, a new branding which will be assigned to devices that offer Best-In-Class 5G, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth connectivity. This is significant as it further symbolizes the synergy between these connectivity solutions. The complimentary nature of Wi-Fi and cellular was a theme reinforced by many exhibits at the MWC 2022, notably Intel’s incorporation of 5G into their ‘Double Connect’ technology, and Cisco’s Private 5G service. Both of these solutions are devised to tackle specific user needs—including gaming and collaborative work in the case of the former, and industrial environments for the latter. The growth of these applications, and their demands for more reliable connectivity with greater throughputs and lower latencies, will further drive demands for Wi-Fi and cellular convergence in these scenarios.
Now that it has been two full years since the launch of Wi-Fi 6E, the fact that none of the announced flagship smartphones from MWC 2022 (Realme GT 2 Pro, Honor Magic 4 Pro, Oppo Find X5 Pro) support Wi-Fi 6E is surprising. Perhaps one should not read too much into this, as all these brands originate from Mainland China, a market which does not have access to the unlicensed 6 GHz spectrum, and thus has little appetite for Wi-Fi 6E compatible devices. Saying that, the fact that they all chose to forego the latest Wi-Fi standard completely and didn’t include the possibility of unlocking Wi-Fi 6E via Over-the-air (OTA) programming in compatible markets, as Xiaomi offered with the Mi 11 Ultra, suggests that Chinese smartphone vendors still consider there to be low consumer demand for Wi-Fi 6E in smartphones even in markets with unlicensed access to the 6 GHz spectrum. In contrast to the dearth of Wi-Fi 6E in MWC’s smartphone lineup, there were many laptops announced at the event which did support the latest Wi-Fi standard. Two such laptops were Samsung’s Galaxy Book 2 Pro 360 and Lenovo’s ThinkPad T16, support Intel ‘Gig+’, which is the company’s branding for devices that are Wi-Fi 6E compatible. Intel is one of the main driving forces behind Wi-Fi 6E adoption in the notebook space, as it integrates the Wi-Fi protocol into its twelfth generation platforms. The laptops introduced at the MWC 2022 are designed for remote and hybrid workers, and may be used by enterprises, which are more likely to be early adopters of Wi-Fi 6E than the general consumer. Thus, the disparity between Wi-Fi 6E in smartphones and laptops at MWC 2022 in part indicates that whilst some smartphone manufacturers are still cautious on the need for Wi-Fi 6E in flagship consumer smartphones, there is a broader acknowledgement that hybrid workers and enterprises have a greater immediate demand for Wi-Fi 6E.