Qualcomm's New Chip Will Take the Pain Out of Public Wi-Fi

Trying to access public Wi-Fi is a crapshoot. If you manage to connect to an open network at all, chances are you won’t be able to load a website, share a social media post or quickly send a message, because everyone else in the vicinity is trying to do the same exact thing.

Qualcomm has a solution: A new Wi-Fi chip for smartphones, tablets and laptops aimed at reducing network congestion, improving battery life and securing data transmitted over the air.

Credit: Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock

(Image credit: Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock)

Standards for the next generation of Wi-Fi are expected to be finalized in 2019, and Qualcomm wants to bridge the gap between the older 802.11ac wave 2 standard and the the upcoming 802.11ax certification with its WCN3998 chip, announced today (Feb. 21) ahead of the annual Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, Spain.

When you buy a device outfitted with Qualcomm’s new chip, you’ll be able to connect to public Wi-Fi networks with ease. Qualcomm says its chip doubles network throughput and reduces power consumption by up to 67 percent. In addition, the WCN3998 supports WPA3 encryption, which will make both public Wi-Fi browsing and home Wi-Fi connectivity more secure.

“Most of the time when we’re traveling, we’re connecting in an airport or public environment, or connecting in a stadium or public venue. In all those areas, you look at your Wi-Fi signals and all the bars are lit up, but you can’t even load a web page,” said Dino Bekis, Qualcomm’s vice president and general manager overseeing mobile and computing connectivity. “That’s an example of where signal strength is good but congestion is super high. With 802.11ax network deployments, consumers will see much improved access to whatever they’re doing, whether it’s uploading, downloading content, whatever it is.”

Qualcomm promises faster speeds, less power consumption and improved security with the WCN3998 chip. (Credit: Qualcomm)

(Image credit: Qualcomm promises faster speeds, less power consumption and improved security with the WCN3998 chip. (Credit: Qualcomm))

The new chip also bakes in Bluetooth 5.1, which means the sound quality and battery life of your soundbars, wireless headphones and other Bluetooth devices will improve. Those devices don’t have to have a WCN3998 chip of their own to gain the benefits of connecting to a phone or laptop that sports the new chip. Bekis said a Bluetooth headset without a WCN3998 chip could see a 65 percent improvement in battery life, while a headset that includes a Qualcomm chip could see up to 75 percent increase in battery life.

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Qualcomm also expects the new chip to make your smart home appliances more efficient.

“Once a year, just like I change batteries in my smoke detectors, I’m changing batteries in all my connected devices,” Bekis said. “[With WCN3998], you actually have efficient scheduling so all of these devices aren’t just trying to jump on the airways and transmitting the data they have to transmit.”

That means your home Wi-Fi network won’t be congested by your smart home devices trying to connect to the internet when they don’t need to.

Along with a new Wi-Fi chip, Qualcomm also plans to use Mobile World Congress to showcase its latest CPU, the Snapdragon 845. Qualcomm says the WCN3998 will be integrated with its new processor, which we saw a sneak peek of earlier this month. That chip is is rumored to power Samsung’s Galaxy S9, though Qualcomm isn't announcing specific devices just yet. Check out our full benchmarking results of the Snapdragon 845 here.

Caitlin is a Senior editor for Gizmodo. She has also worked on Tom's Guide, Macworld, PCWorld and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. When she's not testing out the latest devices, you can find her running around the streets of Los Angeles, putting in morning miles or searching for the best tacos.