WiFi news at CES: Multiuser-MIMO chips and WiFi Aware

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The latest WiFi Alliance certification program will center on WiFi Aware, which will enable device users to locate others nearby in order to join them in game-playing, business discussions or content sharing. That connectivity could take place over conventional WiFi or over the peer-to-peer system, WiFi Direct.

Similar ad hoc, P2P communications services are already available, using Bluetooth or WiFi, but Aware will standardise the way they work, to simplify and encourage uptake and to introduce elements like security. The technology should be added to chips later this year and available in smartphones and tablets next year, the Alliance announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Tuesday. Its certification process will be ready around the middle of 2015.

WiFi Aware uses ‘neighbor awareness’ software which works continuously in the background, saving power by sending clusters of very small ping messages rather than broadcasting all the time. This is a similar approach to that of Bluetooth beacons (over which Aware could run). The software also helps users ascertain what kind of games or services are available before making a connection. It has to be built into an app in order to be used.

Like beacons, WiFi Aware sees the supporters of connectivity technologies adding higher value capabilities to embed their standards tightly into the whole wireless experience, enabling new services while requiring limited effort from end users to activate them. In particular, these will rely on location and context awareness so that connectivity supports personally relevant services and so encourages higher usage.

“The Aware program has broad vendor support and momentum and is important to this industry, which is a sign that things will happen quickly,” Davis-Felner said.

Another key area of WiFi activity at CES was in the emerging Multiuser MIMO (MU-MIMO) technology, which represents the second wave of the 802.11ac standard and claims to be able to boost data rates by three or four times, compared to 11ac with Single User MIMO.

Qualcomm and start-up Quantenna had been first to market with MU-MIMO chips, and showed off actual pre-commercial devices from partners at CES (though WiFi Alliance certification will not start for another year). Their rivals were just bringing their first 4×4 MU-MIMO silicon to the show, with launches from Broadcom, Marvell and Ralink/MediaTek.

Qualcomm said it had design wins for the technology from Amped Wireless, Buffalo, D-Link, NEC, TP-Link, TRENDnet and Xiaomi. Quantenna launched its MU-MIMO chip back in May 2013, well ahead of anyone else, but has so far only publicly announced a design win with Linksys. However, at this year’s CES it was already leaping ahead again, demonstrating what it calls its 10G WiFi platform, an 8×8 MU-MIMO chip with 160MHz channel support, which it said even provides a benefit to 1 x 1 clients.

Meanwhile, Broadcom was pitching its new MU-MIMO BCM 4366 chips at retail routers, wireless cable/DSL/PON gateways and set-top boxes (STBs) and claimed that it was optimized for the delivery of broadcast quality video around a home. The chip is coupled with the BCM47094 network processor system-on-chip to improve video streaming performance in applications such as home media gateways, Quantenna’s key area of focus.

Marvell launched a very similar system to Broadcom with a 4×4 802.11ac Wave-2 WiFi SoC which it calls the AP3200 Reference Platform, built around its 88W8964 chip. This is aimed at enterprise access points, smart gateways, multi-room carrier-grade video distribution and small business routers. The Armada-395 SoC also integrates a dual-core host CPU running at 1.8GHz.

And finally MediaTek released its MT7615, MU-MIMO chip operating in both 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels, which it says is best for delivering 4K video around a home or office environments. It is designed with MediaTek’s 4x4x4 (4Transmitter, 4Receiver and 4Spatial Streams), and combines with the firm’s MT7623 quad-core ARM-based network processing unit.

 

For more please read the brochure of the excellent report “Wi-Fi Blasts Ahead with 11ac Wave 2 Chipsets”

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Mr. Fellah, is a Senior Analyst and founder of Maravedis with 20-year experience in the wireless industry. He authored various landmark reports on Wi-Fi, LTE, 4G and technology trends in various industries including retail, restaurant and hospitality. He is regularly asked to speak at leading wireless and marketing events and to contribute to various influential portals and magazines such as RCR Wireless, 4G 360, Rethink Wireless, The Mobile Network, Telecom Reseller to name a few. He is a Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS).