Broadcom's new Wi-Fi 6E mobile chip promises fast speeds for tomorrow's phones

Broadcom is betting on the FCC opening up the 6GHz band for faster Wi-Fi connections -- and its new Wi-Fi 6E mobile chip is ready to take advantage.

Ry Crist Senior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
Expertise Smart home technology and wireless connectivity Credentials
  • 10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
Ry Crist
3 min read

The Wi-Fi Alliance kicked off 2020 by introducing us to Wi-Fi 6E, a new designation for Wi-Fi devices equipped to operate in the 6GHz band. Soon after, Broadcom introduced new Wi-Fi 6E chipsets for access points and routers at CES 2020. Now, the company is taking the next step and announcing the first Wi-Fi 6E mobile chip, the Broadcom BCM4389.

The goal? Get that chip into the next generation of smart phones to ensure that they can take advantage of that additional spectrum.

Though it won't perform as well at a distance as the 2.4 and 5GHz bands used by current-gen Wi-Fi devices, the 6GHz band offers a much greater range of frequencies -- 1200MHz worth, compared to 500MHz on the 5GHz band. That's enough for seven separate 160MHz channels, each with plenty of room to move lots of data at the fastest speeds possible.

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Watch this: Wi-Fi 6 vs. Wi-FI 6E: Here's the difference in three minutes

That makes Wi-Fi 6E something of an exclusive, multi-lane expressway for next-gen Wi-Fi devices, and one that could ultimately pave the way for a new generation of close-range, bandwidth-intensive use cases, like augmented reality and high-speed tethering. However, the standard isn't likely to see widespread adoption until 2021 at the earliest -- and that's only if the FCC decides to open up the 6GHz band for Wi-Fi use. Still, that's a move that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has signaled he supports.

"Studies have shown that sharing this band with unlicensed operations is feasible, and can put massive amounts of new spectrum into the hands of consumers," Pai said last year. The industry is still waiting on an official green light, but Broadcom seems to think that it's all but certain at this point.

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"We're heavily betting on it," said Vijay Nagarajan, vice president of marketing for Broadcom's Wireless Communications and Connectivity Division. "We're very, very hopeful and confident that the rules and regulations from the FCC will be in place in the next few months."

As for the chip itself, Broadcom tells us that it features three radios -- one with support for two Wi-Fi 6E streams, another with support for Bluetooth 5, and a third ultra-low-power radio designed to optimize the performance of the first two by scanning for optimal networks and assisting with location accuracy. Broadcom claims that it all adds up to better battery utilization, faster Bluetooth pairing -- and double the speeds of current-gen Wi-Fi 5 connections, with half as much latency.

It'll take some time before benefits like those become commercially available to consumers, but Nagarajan tells CNET that plans are already in place to get the chip into multiple upcoming mobile devices. We'll keep an ear out for more news on that front -- for now, here's a closer look at what the new chip is capable of.

Broadcom BCM4389 combo chip: Key specs

  • Support for 2 streams of Wi-Fi 6E
  • Multi-Radio Bluetooth 5 with antenna beamforming
  • Tri-Band Simultaneous (TBS) architecture including a dedicated background scan radio
  • Simultaneous Dual-Band operation
  • 2.63 Gbps PHY Rate
  • Operation in 2.4GHz and 5.1 - 7.125GHz unlicensed band
  • 160 MHz Channel Bandwidth
  • 1024-QAM Modulation