Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
Qualcomm is announcing its first chips with support for Wi-Fi 6E, the brand-new version of Wi-Fi that should be faster and more reliable thanks to its access to an expansive additional range of airwaves over which to broadcast.
Two sets of products are being announced today: one for phones, which should ship in the second half the year, and one for routers, which will start shipping immediately. The key feature of all these chips is support for Wi-Fi 6E, which takes advantage of the 6GHz spectrum that was newly opened up for Wi-Fi in the US by the Federal Communications Commission last month. It’s the largest expansion of Wi-Fi spectrum ever, which should result in some big performance gains.
The phone chips fall under Qualcomm’s FastConnect line, which tend to end up integrated with Snapdragon chips. There are two options at launch: the FastConnect 6700 and FastConnect 6900, which have top theoretical speeds of 3Gbps and 3.6Gbps. Both include support for the maximum size of Wi-Fi channels (160MHz on 5GHz and 6GHz).
“My personal expectation is this is going to be a very fast transition,” VK Jones, Qualcomm’s VP of technology, told The Verge. Particularly in high-end phones, he said, “This is going to be added very quickly.”
It’s not entirely clear if we’ll have to wait until next year’s flagships start to arrive. Qualcomm has already put out its top-of-the-line Snapdragon chips for this year, and they’re currently using the FastConnect 6800, which does not include 6GHz support. Qualcomm indicated that phone manufacturers could choose to use one of these newer Wi-Fi chips, but it’s not evident yet how many will go out of their way to add 6GHz support instead of just waiting for a new generation of Snapdragon chips where 6GHz support is included by default.
In addition to the phone chips, Qualcomm also announced a range of Wi-Fi 6E chips for routers. They fall under Qualcomm’s Networking Pro series, and there’ll be four chips in total — the 610, 810, 1210, and 1610. The chips range in capabilities from six Wi-Fi streams and a theoretical top speed of 5.4Gbps on the low end to 16 streams and 10.8Gbps on the high end. Qualcomm envisions mesh routers using these chips and putting the new 6GHz spectrum to use as a backhaul to wirelessly connect the units, freeing up the 5GHz spectrum to communicate with devices.
Wi-Fi 6E is off to a relatively quick start, but there are still hurdles in its path. There still needs to be regulatory approval for the use of 6GHz spectrum in other regions — like Europe — and these chips actually have to make it inside of consumer devices. Qualcomm’s quick support for Wi-Fi 6E suggests it won’t be too long before that happens.