Broadcom Starts to Support New Wi-Fi Standard

Broadcom announced its first series of chips for routers, enterprise access points, and smartphones based on a new Wi-Fi standard, which uses multiple antennas to make space in spectrum for wireless gadgets. 

The new standard, more commonly called 802.11ax, will not be agreed upon until around 2019. But chipmakers like Broadcom and Qualcomm have run with early drafts of the standard, which in some ways reflects the fact that Wi-Fi remains the primary window to the internet for billions of people.

“Our reliance on Wi-Fi has increased tremendously as we stream live experiences over social media and upload pictures and files to the cloud while also connecting the many ‘things’ around our homes,” said Greg Fischer, Broadcom’s senior vice president of broadband carrier access, in a statement.

The new standard involves coordinating multiple antennas, which send multiple streams of data into devices. An individual stream is split again with orthogonal frequency division multiple access, or OFDMA, the same technology used by cellular networks. In contrast, earlier types of Wi-Fi created multiple streams but assigned only one to each device.

The standard, which is compatible with legacy protocols, creates a wider pipeline for information and eats through less power and spectrum. It aims to provide better coverage and faster loading times in apartment buildings, offices, stadiums, and other locations crowded with smartphones and other gadgets.

Broadcom, which has started sampling the chips to companies like Netgear and Microsoft, was not first out of the gate. It fell behind Quantenna, a scrappy competitor that began sampling a pair of 802.11ax chips in the wake of an initial public offering that raised $107 million late last year.

Broadcom hopes that its three products will inspire customers to create new Wi-Fi routers, gateways, enterprise access points, and smartphones that fit the standard. Competitors could also contribute to the larger market: In February, Qualcomm also announced its first range of 802.11ax chips.

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