Smartphones are about to become network hubs

Broadcom's latest chipset will run 2.4 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi simultaneously. That changes everything in terms of media bandwidth and multiple IoT connections.

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Here's the quandary with smartphones: despite featuring copious radios within, such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi over both the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, 4G LTE, Near Field Communication (NFC), and so on, the radios with the most propensity for delivering media don't work together.

The two Wi-Fi bands found in today's smartphones generally aren't used at the same time. The issue has been related to needing two antennas connected at the same time for the different bands. It's because the frequencies used have very different characteristics.

New routers

This dual-band limitation is about to change, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the newest routers, or wireless access points, that are being sold are already kitted with the two radios and antennas configured to work together at the same time. I wrote about a few of these monsters recently in a post titled "Is it time to move to beamforming 802.11ac?"

And secondly, new modem chipsets are now coming along that will, pretty much for the first time, do the same thing at the smartphone end.

Broadcom has just announced a Wi-Fi Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) combination modem chip with what it calls Real Simultaneous Dual Band (RSDB) for mobile devices. The BCM4359 lets phones transmit and receive over two Wi-Fi bands simultaneously.

Smartphone as hub

Why? Well, there are considerable advantages to using both Wi-Fi bands at the same time. The obvious one is that by combining the bandwidth available you can increase speeds and throughput.

However, there are some secondary benefits that promise to play out too.

The smartphone could become a "network controlling hub," David Recker, a Broadcom executive told Kevin Fitchard at Gigaom.

Recker thinks that by letting phones connect to Wi-Fi along two paths, in other words the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, the phone could become the hub of the two connections. You could use the phone to download a video over Wi-Fi from the internet while simultaneously streaming it to a living room television.

Or, he says, you could connect a smartwatch to a phone in order to check email and listen to streaming music at the same time—all via nice bandwidth-friendly Wi-Fi.


This prophecy clearly has implications for Bluetooth, which has been a viable way to keep multiple connections going on a smartphone.

Listening to music on a smartphone via Bluetooth while browsing the internet with Wi-Fi has been a solution used by media consumers since before the iPhone. That's how I did it on a 2006 Palm Treo.

However, Wi-Fi is faster and can have longer range. Having two of those fatter Wi-Fi pipes going at once has advantages for video and gaming at home.

Before you utter a word, I'm not saying Bluetooth doesn't have a valuable role to play in IoT.

Internet of Things

Which leads us to IoT. If the IoT in our future is going to be using Wi-Fi—and the jury's still out on that one—then it's going to need a bunch of pipes. One probably won't be enough for two-way, latency-prone media multi-tasking, along with home automation and everything else we're expecting.

Based on convenience, too, the smartphone thus becomes an IoT hub. Who's going to break the news to the fridge?


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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