Using Wi-Fi networks in crowded environments can be a soul-destroying experience, but next-generation access points powered by Qualcomm chipsets will use a new antenna technology to ease the pain.
Wi-Fi has become a victim of its own success, leaving busy networks simply unable to handle all the laptops, smartphones and tablets we use today.
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The problem is that access points or wireless routers use short time slots to communicate with only one user at a time, and as more users get connected networks get overloaded. New antenna technology MU-MIMO (multi user-multiple-input multiple-output) will help change that by letting 802.11ac networks transmit data to many users simultaneously.
"[Vendors] are eager to get to market and deploy this technology, because they really see a need for it," said Rishi Grover, director of product marketing at Qualcomm.
On Wednesday, Qualcomm announced a platform for enterprise products based on chipsets it announced in April. Ruckus Wireless is one of the companies that will use Qualcomm's platform. Just like Grover, Ruckus' David Callisch has high hopes for what the technology will do for Wi-Fi performance.
"MU-MIMO is going to change the game completely for 802.11ac because it becomes kind of like a switched Ethernet network," Callisch said.
Ruckus wants to be one of the first to launch MU-MIMO products, which means having something ready for the first half of next year, according to Callisch. Qualcomm is a bit more optimistic, and expects first access points to arrive in the beginning of the second quarter, according to Grover.
For MU-MIMO to work, clients have to be upgraded. Mobile devices powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 801 and 805 processors already support the technology. But an as-yet-unreleased software update is needed to activate the feature. The company also offers chipsets for laptops, connected TVs and set-top boxes.
Qualcomm is also integrating features other than MU-MIMO into its platform to improve enterprise network performance. They include the ability to avoid interference that causes bandwidth drops by moving users to another channel and feature called airtime fairness, which prevents older, slower clients from hogging the network. Another new addition steers users with dual-band clients to 5GHz, which is much less crowded than the 2.4GHz band.
These features or variations of them are already offered by equipment vendors, but Grover contends that by integrating them in both software and hardware performance will improve.
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