Image courtesy of AB CC Creative Commons

Using its Cellular Experience, Qualcomm Prepares for the Next Wi-Fi Standard

Feb. 14, 2017
Qualcomm's new chips join a short list of technologies to support the nascent 802.11ax Wi-Fi standard.

For years, cellular technology that allows mobile phones to communicate has been Qualcomm’s bread and butter. But now the world’s largest maker of mobile chips has released two devices that support the latest version of Wi-Fi, one that borrows many features from cellular networks.

The first chip, the IPQ8074, is built using 14-nanometer technology for routers and access points, while the QCA6290 is designed for consumer gadgets ranging from smartphones to car dashboards. Both devices are capable of tapping into traditional Wi-Fi frequencies and newer ones that are catching the overspill.

The chips join a short list of other technologies that support the 802.11ax standard, which coordinates multiple antennas to beam multiple streams of data into devices. But it contrasts with earlier Wi-Fi technologies because it splits each stream again using the same self-organization and modulation methods as 4G networks.

The result is a more efficient network, lowering power consumption and increasing capacity up to four times over existing technology. That will make the biggest difference in Wi-Fi networks with lots of traffic or pushing up against other nearby networks in an apartment complex or office building.

“Capacity – not peak speed – has become the most important measure of a network’s ability to handle the ever-increasing demands of today’s diverse mix of application and services,” said Rahul Patel, Qualcomm’s senior vice president and general manager of connectivity, in a statement.

The new chips will exploit a technology called MU-MIMO, which stands for multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output. It allows multiple devices to simultaneously absorb multiple streams of data, improving network capacity and download speeds. Both devices support 12 streams, with eight of those in the 5 GHz spectrum band and four in the traditional 2.4 GHz band.

For now, there is not much hardware to support the 802.11ax standard, which is not likely to be finalized before 2019. Quantenna appears to be the only other supplier to have released details of two new chips for routers and set-top boxes that comply with an early version of 802.11ax.

Quantenna has said that its two chips will start sampling early this year. For its part, Qualcomm expects to sample the IPQ8074 and QCA6290 in the first half of this year.

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