Qualcomm Unveils Innovations to Enhance Wi-Fi, Wireless Audio, VR, and AI

With the hope to retain its market presence in 2018, Qualcomm on Wednesday announced a list of innovations that are designed to enhance wireless connectivity as well as to bring new experiences to the world of virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI). The San Diego-based company has announced the first integrated 802.11ax-ready Wi-Fi chip solution called WCN3998, which includes 2×2 antennas and supports WPA3 encryption. The company has also unveiled a new VR Reference Design based on the Snapdragon 845 SoC and an updated TrueWireless Stereo technology. The new developments will reach customers later this year.

First things first, Qualcomm has introduced the WCN3998 as its very first solution to bring support for the upcoming 802.11ax Wi-Fi standard to future smartphones, tablets, and notebooks. The new Wi-Fi module not just enhances Wi-Fi speeds to new levels by doubling the network throughput but also reduces Wi-Fi power consumption, as per the company’s claim. Further, it is designed to refine connectivity with the current Wi-Fi ac standard through 11ac Wave-2 support.

The new Qualcomm Wi-Fi module has 8×8 sounding, which reduces power consumption by up to 67 percent over the previous-generation 802.11ac Wave-2 solutions, is touted to provide up to two times increase in network capacity when compared to devices supporting 4×4 sounding. Additionally, there is downlink MU-MIMO to enable multiple simultaneous connections on a particular access point and optimisations such as the Target Wait Time (TWT) and other power saving features to maximise sleep cycles and minimise contention. The chipmaker has also provided support for pre-draft 11ax access points that are expected to be deployed in the market sometime later this year and in early 2019. Likewise, there is future-ready WPA3 encryption that protects data traffic with advanced security features. These advancements are vital as we are moving deeper into the emerging space of connected devices.

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Alongside supporting advanced Wi-Fi networking, the WCN3998 has Bluetooth connectivity with support for the v5.1 standard that is yet to be announced. There are also features to enable seamless streaming of audio by supporting “truly wireless” Bluetooth headsets. “The WCN3998 solves immediate real-world challenges and supports new applications with the right mix of advanced capabilities while helping our customers to effectively navigate the turbulent industry transition to broadly interoperable 802.11ax networks over the next two years,” said Dino Bekis, Vice President and General Manager, Mobile / Compute Connectivity Business, Qualcomm Atheros, in a press statement.

Qualcomm is set to sample the WCN3998 module to some customers in the second quarter of 2018.

In addition to the new Wi-Fi solution, Qualcomm has announced an update to its TrueWireless Stereo technology to deliver superior audio quality and extended battery life on “truly wireless” headsets. The next-generation TrueWireless technology, which is supported on the recently launched QCC5100 series Bluetooth audio SoC, is claimed to help reduce power consumption by up to 65 percent for voice call and music streaming compared to its predecessor. There are tweaks to improve user and listening experience with an easier pairing functionality that doesn’t require pairing of individual earbuds. Plus, the technology includes the ability to autonomously role switch each earbud between primary and secondary roles. All this helps to balance power consumption between the buds for longer playback time.

Qualcomm has additionally developed a new TrueWireless Stereo Plus mode that enables smartphones to connect directly to both earbuds at a single time. This eliminates the need for cross-head Bluetooth transmission and helps balance audio playback by reducing latency between earbuds and the connected smartphone. Moreover, when paired with a QCC5100 series-based device and the Snapdragon 845 SoC-equipped smartphone, the new module is rated to reduced power consumption by up to an additional 10 percent – delivering nearly an additional hour of listening time over what you’d get when pairing with dated hardware.

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Devices featuring the updated TrueWireless Stereo technology are likely to hit global markets in the second half of the year. However, the initial development will be limited to hardware using a QCC5100 series module.

Alongside the updated TrueWireless Stereo technology, Qualcomm has revealed the presence of a Broadcast Audio feature that will be a part of the Snapdragon 845 SoC and will support music streaming to multiple Bluetooth devices at once. This new development is mainly designed to offer a one-to-many audio experience through devices featuring the new Snapdragon chip. It is also touted to support automatic retransmission and packet-loss concealment to offer near-perfect audio synchronisation between multiple devices.

The real use cases for the Broadcast Audio feature of the Snapdragon 845 will vary from user to user. For instance, if you are planning a party, you can leverage the new feature and boost the sound at your place just by using multiple speakers. The feature is also useful if you’d like to stream the audio you’re listening to through your earphones to your nearby headphone-wearing friend or colleague. Notably, smart speakers, such as Apple HomePods or Amazon Echo, are already offering a similar experience and boosting the audio by pairing their multiple units, as do dumb speakers like the UE Boom.

If next-generation Wi-Fi or wireless audio is not of your interest, Qualcomm unveiled a new Snapdragon 845-based VR Reference Design that is a VR headset with the ability to display content on 1024×1152 pixels displays at 120fps frame rate. It uses Adreno 630 GPU, which is claimed to deliver 30 percent faster graphics performance than its previous version, and Adreno Foveation that combines graphics rendering with eye tracking to display VR content right in front of users’ view. The headset also supports 6DoF (six degrees of freedom) and SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping) for a roomscale experience. Qualcomm has used its dedicated Hexagon DSP and the newest Adreno GPU to enable the development. Further, the reference design supports standalone VR devices from Google Daydream, Oculus, and Vive. There is also support for Xtended Reality (XR) and 3D audio.

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For the growing AI market, Qualcomm has launched its native AI Engine that is built to accelerate on-device AI-enabled user experiences. The new software-made AI Engine is supporting Snapdragon 845, Snapdragon 835, Snapdragon 820, and Snapdragon 660 mobile platforms and is based on developments such as TensorFlow, Caffe, Caffe2, Open Neural Network Exchange (ONNX), Android Neural Networks API, and Hexagon Neural Network library.

Qualcomm mentions in a press release that many of the smartphone vendors are planning to optimise their existing AI applications using its AI Engine on future flagship smartphones that would include the Snapdragon 845 SoC. Demonstration of the features through the new software will be held at MWC 2018.

Uplifting the range of Windows 10-based Always Connected PCs, Qualcomm has announced its partnership with Asus, HP, and Lenovo. The company also touted relevant connectivity plans from various telecom operators in many regions, including Asia, Australia, North America, and Europe. Microsoft and Qualcomm announced their partnership to bring Windows 10 to Snapdragon laptops in May last year and AMD and Qualcomm separately tied up in last December to expand the Always Connected PC line.

Lastly, Qualcomm has announced the C-V2X platform that it has been designed to offer high-bandwidth, low-latency communication between vehicles. The new solution is expected to be commercially deployed in 2020 to enhance self-driving and automated car offerings.

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