SAN FRANCISCO -- As several major companies roll out 802.11ac solutions with multi-user, multiple input-multiple output (MU-MIMO), local startup Quantenna Communications announced a chip that’s a step ahead.
The company is developing what it calls a 10G WiFi chipset using an 8x8 MIMO configuration for access points in home, enterprise, and public spaces. While much of the industry buzzes about 5G WiFi, Quantenna’s chip is named for its ability to reach 10 Gbit/s of throughput using different configurations – 8x8 with 160 MHz channels.
“This architecture will also significantly enhance the capabilities of MU-MIMO, allowing it to support interference-free transmission to many more devices simultaneously,” Stanford electrical engineering professor Andrea Goldsmith said in a release. “As we move into an era of exponentially-growing video usage and the Internet of Things, the 8x8 architecture and MU-MIMO technologies will become essential in all high-performance Wi-Fi devices.”
Access points will be particularly threatened in the burgeoning need for speed, Quantenna senior vice president of business development Lionel Bonnot told EE Times.
“This is the next breakthrough in delivering network capacity and performance with Wi-Fi. It’s not only about speed, but network efficiency and making sure all clients [are] getting bandwidth they need. The fact that you have 8x8 access points and are supporting many MU-MIMO clients enables you to do many new innovative things,” he added.
Bonnot continued that 8x8 MU-MIMO could quadruple WiFi performance in crowded places such as airports or shopping malls, while requiring fewer access points. Instead of dividing bandwidth between 300 people, 8x8 access points would allow for simultaneous data transmission to multiple devices without speed loss, and cover two to three times the range of a 4x4 solution.
“If you have faster transmission on every one of the MU-MIMO channels you’ll be able to transfer fast to every client, and with much more network efficiency to low bandwidth clients,” he said. “You can group devices in MU-MIMO to make sure that you hold the slower ones together and the faster ones together. The lower level physical layer is typically hardwired in chip while higher level activity is done in microprocessors and with software.”
The combined use of hardware, firmware, and software isn’t new for Quantenna, which pioneered 4x4 MIMO technology at 1.7 Gbit/s. Its 8x8 chip utilizes the maximum number of antennas allowable in 11ac and will have an architecture similar to 4x4 chips, with several optimized generic processors that take care of higher level interfacing and protocol management, hardwired physical blocks, and MIMO processing blocks that are a mix of digital signal processing and other hardware.
“A lot of our competition does a lot of software, which requires big processors and takes a lot of die area. If you hardwire some lower level blocks, which is harder to do, you can get to a smaller die. Our mix of hardware and software is pretty important,” Bonnot said.
Competitor Broadcom recently announced a six-stream 11ac MIMO platform for the home, which is a step down in power from Quantenna’s chipset at 3.2 Gbit/s. Bonnot speculated that the company may be playing catch-up and pointed to Broadcom’s six 11ac streams and three 802.11n streams as not a true 6x6 system. Bonnot added that he is happy to see big industry players get on board with MU-MIMO.
“Chip vendors scrambling to be as competitive as they possibly can. The whole ecosystem around wireless LANs is jumping –whatever you can do to get ahead,” said Craig Mathias, principal at Fairpoint Group.
Quantenna expects the chips will be available in 2015. Bonnot said the company will be busy with rollout for the rest of 2014. He still plans on further innovation.
“There is no reason to stop [at 8x8]. Evolution to a standard, convergence with the Internet of Things, reaching 69 GHz -- there’s quite a lot to do,” Bonnot said.
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times