When Samsung introduced its latest flagship Galaxy smartphones last month, the S21 Ultra was the first to include support for Wi-Fi 6E – enabling users to tap new unlicensed spectrum unleashed in places including South Korea and the U.S.
Support for 5G spectrum bands is another key feature, but when it comes to user experience, Wi-Fi still accounts for most mobile device connections, especially indoors. And Samsung’s JM Choi said the electronics giant is committed to leadership in both connectivity experiences.
Choi, VP and head of Convergence R&D Group at Samsung Electronics, has been with Samsung since 2005 and is the inventor of tethering over SoftAP capability for mobile devices. That became Mobile Hotspot, a now widely used technology across both iOS and Android. Choi’s team is charged with developing wireless technologies across Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC (near field communication) and UWB for all of Samsung’s mobile devices.
Wi-Fi 6E comes alongside the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard and means devices can tap into the 6 GHz band. Broadcom supplied its BCM4389 chip for the Wi-Fi 6E-capable S21 Ultra.
“One of the biggest problems of the existing Wi-Fi network is that it can have congestion as well as device interference,” Choi said in an interview with Fierce Wireless. “And the solution to these problems can be Wi-Fi 6E.”
Samsung first introduced Wi-Fi 6 in the Galaxy S10 but at that point Wi-Fi networks were only using the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands - which already have a lot of devices and users - leading Choi and the team to believe Wi-Fi 6 capabilities weren’t being utilized to their full extent.
Discussions began on opening up the 6 GHz band and Samsung’s drive to add Wi-Fi 6E to the Galaxy S21 Ultra (which also still can connect on existing 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi bands).
“We believe that Wi-Fi 6E can really maximize the benefits of Wi-Fi 6” advanced features and offer the best benefits to consumers, Choi said.
Wi-Fi 6-enabled devices are still sharing the 2.4 and 5 GHz band with legacy models that tend to be slower and hold back connectivity speeds.
However, Wi-Fi 6E “is an entirely new canvas,” Choi said.
In the U.S. there was debate around the 6 GHz, and the Wi-Fi community secured a big win when the FCC approved the frequencies for unlicensed use. It offers 1,200 megahertz across seven new 160 MHz-wide channels.
And the new bandwidth is only accessible by high performance devices compatible with the Wi-Fi 6E technology, meaning users aren’t slowed down by legacy Wi-Fi devices.
Other regions have also opened up the 6 GHz band for unlicensed, including parts of Europe and Latin America.
Wi-Fi 6E provides close range, low-latency connectivity, which Choi said becomes very helpful for indoor experiences like AR and VR.
When it comes to ecosystem readiness, Choi said Samsung is dedicated to expanding the Wi-Fi 6E environment, including current work with some major of the major Wi-Fi access point (AP) vendors.
Netgear recently commercialized its first all-purpose tri-band Wi-Fi 6E router and Intel announced a second-gen Wi-Fi module with Extended Wi-Fi 6E support. Choi believes other AP manufacturers and vendors will follow suit.
“With the increasing number of APs, you will have better internet access” alongside benefits of close range low-latency for faster speeds and seamless connectivity.
Developing the S21 Ultra
When Wi-Fi 6 was first introduced, Samsung and Cisco quietly tested the capabilities as the latter began incorporating the new standard into its forthcoming generation of networking gear. Samsung provided Cisco with modified Galaxy S9 smartphones sporting Wi-Fi 6 chipsets for the yet-to-be released Galaxy S10.
When it comes to Wi-Fi 6E, Samsung again was developing a mobile device before industry certifications were in place. The Wi-Fi Alliance just launched its certification program for 6E to deliver interoperability for devices in the 6 GHz band in early January.
That means Samsung had to get a bit creative for the S21 Ultra. Choi previously led his team to launch features like Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi Sharing, Wi-Fi 5, and Wi-Fi 6 for the first time in the market.
“We faced a lot of challenges when preparing Wi-Fi 6 for the S21 Ultra, mainly because there was no commercially available infrastructure to test on, but also because the global regulatory body, the Wi-Fi Alliance, had not started certification programs yet,” Choi explained in a recent video.
Similar to the S10 endeavor, Samsung partnered with Wi-Fi AP makers to define Wi-Fi 6E performance and compatibility, he said.
Engineers, meanwhile, had to work together and with partners remotely in different parts of the world as the Covid-19 pandemic meant shifts in the usual collaboration techniques.
Samsung also enhanced its Intelligent Wi-Fi solution for the S21, which analyzes and predicts apps’ data traffic patterns in real-time. If an interruption to network connection is expected, connectivity is shifted to either Wi-Fi or cellular to optimize and reduce interruptions, Choi explained.
Aside from its focus on smartphones, Samsung is working to promote Wi-Fi 6E adoption through participation with industry bodies like the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), Wi-Fi Alliance, and partners like Cisco and Netgear for commercialization.