Inside Track with James Chen, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Quantenna

April 25, 2016
James C. Chen, Ph.D., is the senior director of product marketing at Quantenna Communications. Throughout his career, Chen has defined and promoted Wi-Fi solutions to service providers worldwide.
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CD: IEEE 802.11ac Wave 3 is a new way for Wi-Fi networks to operate. What advantages does Wave 3 have over Wave 2 and earlier technologies?

JC: Wave 3 defines a new class of access points for Wi-Fi networks to operate. As Wi-Fi usage continues to explode, 10G Wave 3 provides the flexibility and scalability to meet the growing demand for Wi-Fi capacity. Wave 3 has a number of advantages over Wave 2 and earlier technologies, starting with higher order MIMO. In Wave 2, users are limited to 4 × 4—four transmit antennas and four receive antennas. On Wave 3, we have defined a dual-band system, where 5 GHz can go up to 8 × 8 with four additional antennas on 2.4-GHz networks, for a total of 12 unique streams of data.

The end result in the 5 GHz band is that 8 × 8 has much better maximum range than 4 × 4. Even if you live in a smaller home and don’t care about ultimate range, the improvement is seen at every distance—whether near, far, or something in the middle, 8 × 8 will give you higher speeds. If you were getting a certain amount of speed at a specific location using 4 × 4, at that same position 8 × 8 will significantly increase your throughput.

James Chen

JC: We're working with service-provider and retail-market customers to launch products into consumers’ hands by the end of 2016.

CD: What specific challenges are associated with developing chipsets for IEEE 802.11ac Wave 3?

JC: Wave 3 combines the best of 802.11ac and 802.11n all in a single chipset. Our Wave 3 technology enables 12 streams—maxing out what the IEEE standard has defined. The challenge is to pack all of that functionality into a single chipset, which traditionally required customers to use three or more distinct chipsets. Integrating all of that complexity down in a cohesive form also has to be carefully architected and managed in terms of size, power, and performance.

The last challenge is really about perception, since—much like when we introduced 4 × 4 in 2013,—people usually don’t think about the need for a chipset to transmit such high speeds using so many streams. But our past experience in 4 × 4 showed Wi-Fi demands continue to increase and become more stringent. We are confident that a Wave 3-type solution is needed to provide the additional reassurance that consumers will be able to experience broadband where, and when, they need it.

CD: What advances in semiconductor technology in the last five years or so have enabled these chipsets?

JC: Wi-Fi is a unique blend because it’s digital and RF. All Wi-Fi uses CMOS, and in the last five years with help from Moore’s Law, it has become commonplace. We’re now taking the latest and greatest semiconductor process technology and designing chips with it. Every 18 months customers can pack twice as many transistors in the same area, enabling tremendous integration—including 12 streams onto one chip!

CD: What techniques are being implemented into power amplifier (PA) designs to meet the latest demands for stringent requirements like linearity and efficiency?

JC: Our partners, such as Skyworks and Qorvo, have benefited from many generations of PAs. They supply not only to us, but also to the greater market. We work with them to help design the most power-efficient PAs to meet Wave 3 requirements, such as eight streams at 160-MHz channel bandwidth and 1024-QAM modulation.

CD: Can you explain the adaptive multiple-input, multiple output (MIMO) architecture?

JC: Wave 3 includes support for multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO). MU-MIMO provides the ability to support multiple clients at the same time, thus dramatically increasing the capacity of the network. This is extremely important as consumers use more services over Wi-Fi, and as the number of users increase per household. More consumers will experience the fastest, most reliable video-streaming experience, faster downloads and uploads, and better performance even at extremely long distances—in challenging high density Wi-Fi home environments, and even outdoor applications like Wi-Fi hotspots.

CD: How will IEEE 802.11ac Wave 3 tie into the Internet of Things (IoT)?

JC: Because we have 12 streams and not four, we can service many more clients. Think of capacity like the width of a pipe: Now we have three times the capacity for IoT clients producing thermostats, wireless door locks, alarm systems, IP video cameras and many more smart devices. Wave 3 is critical because it makes better use of network and airtime efficiency to support the growing number of connected devices, services and applications, which is the current trend. I have 14 devices in my home, including iPhones, an iPad, laptops, desktops and AppleTVs. In the next four, five, 10 years there will be even more devices, which means more capacity…and Wave 3 stands ready to support all of that.

CD: What is your vision of the future of wireless networking?

JC: Everything’s wireless. Cars are now outfitted with LTE for web access. This was not possible just a few years ago. In the not-so-distant future, cars will also have high-speed Wi-Fi. This will be used for downloading apps, e-mail, and video for that long summer trip, as well as telemetry, traffic accident notification, and congestion avoidance. Wi-Fi will also find its way into other devices and surroundings we can’t even imagine now. What we do know is that in addition to ubiquity, Wi-Fi will also enable demand management. To this end, Quantenna has introduced a solution call MAUI, which is a cloud-based Wi-Fi monitoring and self-healing service that keeps Wi-Fi networks secure, and in peak performance.

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