WiGig® in smartphones – our favourite pre-MWC rumours and what will drive WiGig growth in 2017

MWC is the second big event of the tech year, with pretty much every mobile firm (bar Apple, of course) heading to Barcelona to show off their latest handsets.

Rumours, which often turn out to be very accurate given CES is just 8 weeks before it, are already circulating for many of the handset manufacturers. This includes the behemoths of Sony and Samsung … to the phoenix from the flames brands of Nokia and Blackberry, which have major launches scheduled at the show.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835, Google’s Pixel and WiGig certification

Before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s worth looking at news from the last few months to see what trends might be predicted. First off is Qualcomm’s 835 WiGig-enabled chipset, announced at last month’s CES.

As we reported last month, the numbers for this SoC are impressive, with the octo-core device running a 10nm process and having a GPU 25 per cent faster than that of its Snapdragon 820 / 821 predecessors.

The Snapdragon 820 / 821 WiGig-enabled SoCs both the Google Pixels and two HTC phones (U Pure and U Ultra), with more than 200 design wins in total. Will the Snapdragon 835 beat this? Well, it’s looking promising.

2016 saw big strides forward for WiGig. Notably certification, happening in late October, and a small number of handsets launching throughout the year with WiGig enabled chipsets – starting with the LeTV WiGig phone and culminating in Google’s Pixel phone, which was based on Snapdragon’s 821 WiGig-enabled SoC, and deemed the best phone on the market by the Verge. Will 2017 continue to ramp up the pace?

4K as the driver?

We’ve said it before, but 4K will ultimately prove a big driver of WiGig (802.11ad Wi-Fi) chipsets purely because it will be too time-consuming (and battery consuming for that matter) to transfer such large files over other Wi-Fi standards.

It’s worth reading the full piece we penned for EE Times (here), but in summary, it is possible to stream Netflix’s range of 4K films, but (and it’s a big but) Netflix’s quoted 15Mbps minimum connection exceeds the average download speeds of all bar two countries. And the company also says a 50Mbps connection is the realistic speed required. 4G is also not an option – not just because of the stability / speed of the connection but also the fact that streaming a 60GB film would prove rather costly on most mobile phone plans.

The way, therefore, to get content onto the phone is from home servers using Push VoD (video on demand), and rental kiosks transferring a 60 GB film in less than 2.5 minutes – see also our free white paper on PushVoD.

It’s therefore noteworthy that rumours surrounding Samsung’s big press conference – booked for its usual Sunday spot, 26th February – suggest we can expect big things. The rumour is (not very surprisingly) the launch of the S8. The Korean handset manufacturer obviously needs to really do something big after its S7 issues so will go all out in the specs – and ultrafast Wi-Fi / 4K is likely to be some of the leading features. TechTimes (among many others) has already reported that the Samsung Galaxy S8 will be based on the Snapdragon 835 WiGig-enabled SoC.

TechRadar has also reported that we can expect “4K resolution or Quad HD” resolutions – which is hardly surprising given Samsung Display has already demonstrated a 2160 x 3840 cellphone screen.

And, if the rumours are true, Samsung is not alone in pushing forward.  The next day, Monday 27th will see Sony’s press conference and here we can expect up-to 5 new models, including the Xperia X2 flagship phone.

Image leaks of the new handset have already (accidentally or not) happened, and it looks like the flagship handset is likely to be an impressive one, with enhanced performance. And the rumours are both a Snapdragon 835 WiGig-enabled chipset and a 4K screen.

And VR too?

It’s also worth noting that Samsung is making a big push for VR, with its Gear VR headset and the above display to be marketed as being VR ready. As per our December / January posts, if you’re going to do VR well you need the ultra-high resolutions (the screen is just an inch from the eye) and you need WiGig transfer speeds to enable that much data to flow.

Elsewhere, HTC has been the big rival to Facebook’s Oculus Rift. But for us the big problem with VR has always been the wires. The Rift, for example, has not just HDMI cables, but USB cables coming out of it, as traditional Wi-Fi simply delivers uncompressed, unbuffered twin-channel HD (and in some cases up to 4K) video.

And while the experience is truly fantastic, it still leaves you with the problem of being tethered to the PC. And while other firms (notably the Solon Q) has sought to solve this by placing the processor in the headset, this adds too much weight, making it tiresome to wear.

At MWC the company could be launching its flagship model, the HTC Ocean (codename for now – likely the HTC 11). Its U-Ultra and U-Pure (as well as the HTC-made Google Pixel) all used the Snapdragon 821 WiGig-enabled SoC. It’s therefore likely that the flagship will use the latest 835 chipset to enhance this.

While there haven’t been any spec leaks, one recent video did grab our attention, especially as it used the Vive brand on a handset – predicted by many to be the Ocean (or when it launches, the HTC 11).

This would suggest that the company is also focusing on mobile VR (using Google Daydream / Cardboard) enabling the cost to fall and mobility to get better. And given there is a dual camera in the video, it’s likely that they’re genuinely considering it for AR applications too. Whether this will launch at MWC or shortly after we’ll have to wait and see, though as yet no press conference is currently scheduled.

The re-emergence of old companies means new technologies being adopted

Another trend that we’re delighted to see is that competition is once again hotting up, with even small brands and old brands emerging (re-emerging) phoenix from the flames-like back into the news.

Companies like Blackberry and Nokia were once seen as invincible – back in 2007 Nokia had 48.7% market share… – but then the iPhone came and the market changed overnight. Since then, both Nokia and Blackberry (plus other huge brands, like LG, Motorola etc.) have struggled to a greater or lesser extent, so we were delighted to see that all of these manufacturers’ products feature among the tech mags most hotly anticipated shortlists. Pocket-Lint, for example, listed its 5 most anticipated MWC handset launches as (in alphabetical order) the BlackBerry’s DTEK70, LG’s G6, Moto’s G5, Nokia’s 8/P1 and Sony’s Xperia X2.

What’s telling is that all bar one (the Moto G5) of these use either the Snapdragon 835 or its WiGig-enabled predecessors, the Snapdragon 820 / 821.

Nokia will be making an announcement on the Sunday (26th) and we’re expecting it to be the Nokia 8 (codenamed P1 – and possibly based on the Sharp P1). At CES, a possible first peek of the Nokia 8 appeared on Qualcomm’s booth – with suggestions it features the Snapdragon 835. While unsubstantiated, rumours continue to suggest that the device will have the 835 (with additional handsets launching at the show using the Snapdragon 821) and top end cameras.

Either way, the growth of WiGig in 2017 – both in the mobile handset market and in the CE / VR sectors – is looking positive. It will be interesting to see the post-MWC sector forecasts.