Quantenna 8×8 chips aims at the world


Quantenna believes it has leveraged its lead in WiFi chipset design to open up a retail and an enterprise market for its chips. But more than anything, it’s new 8×8 MU-MIMO chip pushes its design lead in operator supplied set tops and home gateways – beyond the reach of Broadcom and Qualcomm-Atheros for the foreseeable future. It claims the device can top out at 10 Gbps throughput.

Quantenna did its usual, and we think unnecessary, heavy handed marketing, coining the term Wave 3, marking out its new chip design as a step beyond the Wave 2 802.11ac devices which came out for the most part in January, with a few earlier exceptions.

Quantenna for its own part already had an 8×8 development platform design in January, which extended to MU-MIMO, and while the company assures us that this part is now in volume, it has really moved the 8×8 technology on a notch with its new part the True 8×8 QSR10G chip.

That’s because it can operate in 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz simultaneously, offering 8 beamforming streams in 5 GHz and another 4 in 2.4GHz, for a total of 12 radios and 12 antennas. When working in multi-user mode that means the 8 antennas operating in 5 GHz can develop 4 concurrent streams. The chip can now operate with 1024 QAM, ahead of most devices on the market which top out at 256 QAM, with provides perhaps another 15% throughput, where this modulation coding scheme actually works.

The system is designed to be adaptive and calculate what approach will give its best performance, and it does this by looking at the jobs it is being asked to do, and that includes the number of antennas the receiving clients have and decides how best to proceed, changing dynamically. If it has say 30 clients to deal with, it clusters them into high performing or high priority clusters, and layers them onto the 4 MU-MIMO channels.

That means that when a bad apple occurs – the problem of one poorly performing client which slows down an entire single user network – it can isolate its effects for the remainder of the multi-user streams – it just affects one stream. This is critical if you have devices which just have 2.4 GHz access, or some which can talk to 5 GHz, but with only one antenna, such as most older smartphones. Current generations of devices are 2×2, but most of the installed base of smartphones are 1×1, and an access point will have to adopt different strategies for difference mixes of legacy and modern devices. And the data mix between say a UHD video stream, which must not be disrupted, and IoT data collection, which involves many tiny amounts of data, will have to be accommodated in the near future in many homes and businesses.

At Faultline we have watched Quantenna from its inception, and we would say that it has gone past a dangerous point a few years back, when it could not reveal any of its customers and when it had to search hard for development funds. Its last funding round was in December when it picked up $22 million with new investors Centerview Capital Technology, Vivint and NTT in Japan. In its previous round only Rusnano in Russia could be found to lead the fund, but this time all of its major investors including Sequoia Capital, DAG Ventures, Rusnano, Sigma Partners and Venrock all took part.

This is primarily because very quietly, over the past 3 years it has lined up some impressive customers who are all now ramped into volume, including tier 1 services at AT&T, DirecTV, Swisscom, Telefonica, Orange and Belgacom, which use the devices inside their set tops, home gateways and multi-room DVRs. In each case these operations are in growth in terms of customer numbers (except for AT&T and DirecTV this quarter, due to the merger, but that’s temporary we suspect).

And also during that time Quantenna has lined up a fair few allies. This week it also saw Freescale introduce a home gateway reference design using the chip in its QorIQ LS1043A residential gateway, targeting fiber optic Internet deployments in the US and Japan, coupled with open, Linux-based security, video streaming and networking applications, featuring a new Freescale quad-core 64-bit ARMv8 processor.

In the past Quantenna has formed alliances based on the age old principle of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” cutting deals with Lantiq (now Intel) Freescale and ST Micro, and doing interoperability testing with MediaTek handset WiFi, and working with Texas Instruments on a small cell part. Each of these companies compete with its major competitors Broadcom and Qualcomm Atheros.

Other companies that have jumped onto the Wave 2 MU-MIMO WiFi bandwagon include Broadcom, Marvel and Ralink (MediaTek) as well as Celeno, the Israeli start up that won all the early rounds of operator based WiFi at Deutsche Telekom, Liberty Global  and China Telecom.

But the all-important aspect of how these chips perform is what they do in real-world homes and enterprises. The requirement for 802.11n products was just 25 Mbps in “every” corner of a home. This has since moved on to 100 Mbps in every part of the home, which 4 x 4 802.11ac Wave 1 chips are seen as being able to achieve – more or less. These rather low numbers are to do with the client devices in use – if you use a 1×1 smartphone with a Wave 2 device, it can only receive 433 mbps as a maximum. It only gets higher if all 4 radios are talking at once and being heard by 4 radios at the other end. In MU-MIMO it can talk at 433 Mbps to 4 devices at once.

We suspect that all MU-MIMO devices will do much better under the current mix of clients, although not as well as a system that can insulate the network against high interference, low performance clients, like the Quantenna device can.

A spokesman for Quantenna said that its new chips performs closer to 600 Mbps in real world deployments, and we know it has a test-bed where it tries out real world situations, however it has no concrete pillars to cope with as many European MDUs have, so perhaps its performance will drop off somewhat when operators test it.

One of the nicest things about this chip is the way it uses both 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz at once, because it can run faster clients in the 5 GHz and slower, older clients in the 2.4 Ghz zones.

There are multiple chips in the range, the QSR10GU which offers 12 stream operation, the QSR10GA with offers 10 stream operation, the QSR10PA which supports just 8 streams  and the QSR10G5 which only supports 5GHz. All devices are now sampling to Quantenna customers.

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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).