(Image courtesy of Björn, Creative Commons).

Quantenna Develops Wi-Fi Chips Based on Early Draft of 802.11ax

Oct. 18, 2016
Quantenna's latest chip handles an early draft of the emerging 802.11ax standard. It was released on the same day that Quantenna said that it plans to go public.

Quantenna has earned a reputation for being first to release wireless chips based on new generations of Wi-Fi. The company, which makes Wi-Fi chips for routers and set-top boxes, was the first to announce hardware based on the 802.11ac version of the radio technology in 2011.

On Monday, the chipmaker said that it had extended that streak. It revealed details about the first chip to comply with an early version of the 802.11ax standard, which aims to wring better capacity and faster download speed out of Wi-Fi.

The chip, QSR10G-AX, is the first known chip based on the new standard, which is scheduled to be released in 2019. Quantenna plans to unveil the chip, which is designed specifically for access points, at this week’s World Broadband Forum in London, England.

It is built on the same architecture that Quantenna created for the latest version of the 802.11ac standard, which is capable of downloading 10 gigabits of data per second. The new Quantenna chip is a drop-in replacement for older chips based on the architecture, called QSR10G.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is planning 802.11ax as a significant upgrade to the 802.11ac standard. It will coordinate multiple antennas to send multiple streams of data to devices, with each stream split again with orthogonal frequency division multiple access, or OFDMA, a variant of the technology used in cellular networks. The result is a bigger pipeline for devices to transmit data.

That contrasts with earlier technologies, which created multiple streams but only assigned one to each device. The new standard will be more efficient and provide download speeds over 10 gigabits per second. It aims to provide better coverage in places filled to the brim with mobile devices and connected sensors, like apartment buildings and offices.

In the view of industry analysts, the 802.11ax standard will become one of the major evolutionary stages of Wi-Fi, while others like HaLow will splinter into specialized applications. More than half the Wi-Fi chips sold in 2021 will employ 802.11ax, according to Andrew Zignani, an industry analyst at ABI Research, a technology research firm. He also estimates that more than 20 billion Wi-Fi chips will ship between 2016 and 2021.

Quantenna is known for releasing chips based on new and emerging versions of Wi-Fi. Their latest chip handles an early draft of the 802.11ax standard. (Image courtesy of Quantenna).

It will also push Wi-Fi further into the 5 GHz spectrum, which holds more room for wireless traffic than the 2.4 GHz band used by other standards. The QSR10G-AX chip is capable of creating 12 streams, with eight in the 5 GHz band.

Founded in 2006, Quantenna makes Wi-Fi chips for wireless routers and set-top boxes. The company says that it has sold more than 60 million chips to telecommunications companies like AT&T and Telefonica. But it has also become known for releasing chips for embryonic Wi-Fi standards like 802.11ax.

The company released the first 802.11ac chip for consumer electronics nearly two months before Broadcom, the biggest maker of Wi-Fi chips for mobile devices and routers, in late 2011. Quantenna has also jumped ahead in chips based on new versions, or Waves, of the larger 802.11ac standard.

That quickness has encouraged investors to pour money into the Sunnyvale, Calif., company. It has raised around $160 million in funding over the last decade from Sequoia Capital, DAG Ventures, Venrock, among others.

Quantenna’s sharpening focus on new standards could give it more bargaining power with investors when it goes public this week. On Monday, the company launched its initial public offering on the Nasdaq stock exchange, with an eye toward mustering over $100 million. Its stock ticker will be QTNA.

It is a rare I.P.O. for the semiconductor industry. For chipmakers, venture capital funding has dried up over the last decade as the cost and time involved with making new chips has increased sharply.

In recent years, chipmakers have resorted to buying smaller and scrappier competitors in an attempt to keep growing and building more advanced chips. Earlier this year, Avago Technologies closed the bombshell $37 billion deal for Broadcom, one of Quantenna’s biggest competitors.

Quantenna plans to begin sampling the QSR10G-AX chip in early 2017. It did not say when it would enter production.

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