SAN JOSE, Calif. – Startup Quantenna Communications Inc. claims it is on the verge of limited sampling of what could be one of the first Wi-Fi chip sets to deliver a Gbit/second in throughput. Quantenna's QAC2300 implements a draft version of the pending 802.11ac standard for using 80 MHz channels on the 5 GHz band for maximum Wi-Fi throughput.
The IEEE's .11ac spec is not yet final, and some established vendors say they will not ship chips until the Wi-Fi Alliance completes a certification process for it. The WFA kicked off a testing group for .11ac in August that will hold plugfests next year with the expectation of certifying products in November 2012.
The news comes as Quantenna is planning a Series F round of venture financing. It has raised $90 million to date, but does not expect to be profitable until large telcos begin using its existing 802.11n chips in their gateways and other products.
The company claims it has snagged as many as 35 design wins for its .11n products including sockets in NetGear access points and Motorola set-top boxes. Many design wins were from relatively small OEMs and carriers in France, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey.
Spain's Telefonica has invested in Quantenna and said it will use its chips, but so far none of the telco trials evaluating Quantenna chips have resulted in large volumes of shipping systems.
The startup staked out a claim to high-end Wi-Fi products by implementing the first 4x4 MIMO chips in the .11n standard. The new QAC2300 chip set also supports 4x4 MIMO.
"That's what we have to do as a startup, keep running as fast as we can to stay ahead of the pack," said Sam Heidari, chief executive of Quantenna.
The two-chip QAC2300 delivers up to 1,1 Gbits/s at the application layer and 1.5 Gbits/s at the PHY layer. Heidari would not comment on the expected price or size of the chips but said they will carry a small premium.
Quantenna will select two alpha customers and provide them with reference designs for the new chips. The startup expects to have the parts in production by May.
The .11ac standard is seen as the next step in the evolution of Wi-Fi, but it presents some challenges. It uses only the 5 GHz band, still not widely supported in Wi-Fi products. To get maximum throughput it requires use of 80 MHz channels, large swaths of spectrum that can be hard to find and when used could generate more interference than past Wi-Fi specs.
To reap the advantage of .11ac users will need both access point and clients that support the new standard. That could create a chicken-and-egg issue for industry adoption.
Telcos are not expected to adopt .11ac in the near future, fearing interference issues with the large 80 MHz channels, Heidari said. Thus Quantenna is focusing its efforts on enabling retail products.
Wi-Fi vendors have a history of racing to market before standards are final, then modifying products later as needed. They risk the need for expensive re-designs of their silicon or customer backlash if products are not fully compatible.
"Our expectation is whatever is in our hardware is close to frozen [in the standard]," said Heidari. "There might be minor modifications at the MAC layer or higher for which was can adjust," he said.
In an email exchange, Bill McFarland, chief technology officer for Qualcomm Atheros, said his company will wait for the WFA certification process to be complete before it ships .11ac products.