Qualcomm Says Beam-Forming 802.11ac Will Solve Office Wi-Fi Capacity Crunch

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Wi-Fi (c) marinini, Shuttersctock 2013

Qualcomm add MU-MIMO to its Wi-Fi chips. Expect routers and hotspots to handle more users when the system vendors pick them up

Qualcomm has announced a new wave of Wi-Fi chips for routers and access points, which implement the long awaited “beam-forming” part of the IEEE 802.11ac standard – a technology called multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO), which will increase the number of users that can access a home, office or public Wi-Fi hotspot as well as the total throughput of the system.

The Qualcomm Atheros VIVE 4-stream 802.11ac range of products combine MU-MIMO technology with algorithms to allow routers to act in a similar manner to cellular networks. Mu-MIMO is included in the IEEE’s 802.11ac standard, but was not implemented in early 802.11ac products which are finding their way into homes and offices now.

Well-established MIMO techniques allow multiple streams from a router to an end user device – MU-MIMO allows it to direct each spatial stream to a separate device, increasing the number of users on a Wi-Fi system.  A MU-MIMO-enabled router will detect which devices are located where in a home or office and use a particular channel to handle these systems’ traffic together, as opposed to a traditional router which will use one channel and operate on a first come, first served basis.

Finding MU-MIMO

Seagate WiFi StorageQualcomm’s software responds to changing channel conditions, device movement andmanages several simultaneous connections. Qualcomm says that the deployment of this technology will increase spectrum efficiency and increase capacity by two to three times.

“Great connectivity is not just about increasing the absolute speed. It’s about making better use of network and airtime efficiency to support the growing number of connected devices, services and applications,” says Dan Rabinovitsj, senior vice president of Qualcomm Atheros. “After seven years of MU-MIMO development and testing, we’ve gained a deep understanding of real-world channel behaviour with this advanced Wi-Fi technology in crowded environments.”

Regular users of public Wi-Fi networks will understand the frustration at seeing their speeds affected by the number of users on a hotspot, while home Wi-Fi connections are also coming under strain from video streaming services and the growing number of connected devices.

Qualcomm bought into the Wi-Fi router silicon market in 2011, by acquiring market leader Atheros. These new chips will feed into packaged products available to end users and service providers during the course of this year.

However Qualcomm says to make the most of the benefits, both router and device will have to be equipped with the technology. The necessary transceiver is built into the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 and 801 processors, while the company is also working on products for other connected devices, meaning it could benefit from sales from both device and networking equipment manufacturers.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor was unveiled at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona earlier this year and powers the Sony Xperia Z2, Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8) among other smartphones.

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