Broadcom execs say operators will dive deeply into 802.11ac

Though mobile operators will follow home and businesses in employing Wi-Fi equipment based on the 802.11ac gigabit standard, once carriers jump in they will do so aggressively in order to leverage the new technology's benefits, according to executives with chipmaker Broadcom.

"We're in advanced discussions with many of the carriers" regarding leveraging Broadcom's silicon in equipment that can augment their macro networks with Wi-Fi hotspot offloading, Ed Doe, product line director at Broadcom's networking SOC business, told FierceBroadbandWireless.

802.11ac operates exclusively in the 5GHz band and is said to offer peak data rates of 1 Gbps or more depending upon how it is implemented, compared to the 600 Mbps peak data rate possible via 802.11n.

Doe said operators "are fully engaged and wanting to take advantage" of 802.11ac's "bigger, fatter pipes" for offloading data traffic from their macro networks to Wi-Fi. "If Wi-Fi isn't that much better than traditional LTE connectivity, then that Wi-Fi offload network won't really help," he said.

Once operators commit to using 802.11ac as the basis for their Wi-Fi offloading activities, they will do so in a big way, even if it means paying a bit more for Wi-Fi network equipment based on the new standard in order to secure a longer-term benefit, Doe said.

Broadcom has cited industry research indicating 802.11ac is poised to provide operators with gigabit-speed wireless data offloading starting in 2013. "In 2013, we expect to see .11ac adoption in cell phones" said Dino Bekis, Broadcom's senior director of access and wireless entertainment.

"2012 is the year for infrastructure and some early deployments. 2013 is the mainstream, broad ecosystem deployment. Going beyond 2013, we see this technology becoming the vast majority of Wi-Fi chipset deployments," he said.

The 802.11ac standard was designed to enable the simultaneous streaming of video content to multiple devices, simultaneous connection of multiple devices to the network via multi-user MIMO, better data rates over longer distances, fewer dead spots and six times the power efficiency of 802.11n, said Bekis.

Broadcom has been furiously cranking out 802.11ac silicon solutions.This week, the company unveiled new system-on-a-chip (SoC) devices for 802.11ac networks in homes and small- to medium-size businesses. The products are the StrataGX series for SMB routers and network attached storage (NAS) devices and the BCM4708x series for home routers and gateways. Broadcom said the SoCs are the industry's first to combine a high-performance processor, Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) switch, GbE physical layer transceivers (PHYs), USB 3.0 and traffic accelerators on a single chip.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is not slated to certify the 802.11ac standard until February 2013, but end-user device vendors are starting to come out with pre-certified products. Though there were issues with the release of 802.11n products before that standard was ratified, such issues are not expected to crop up with 802.11ac.

"The industry players learned a very significant lesson" from the problems with 802.11n, said Bekis. For one thing, in the standard-defining process for 802.11ac, there was broad agreement across vendors rather than the competing factions that held up 802.11n.

"We've already gone through two plug-fests. We've shown broad interoperability across multiple device manufacturers' products. The standard is technically in a draft form, but the expectation by everyone involved is that there is nothing that would impact the ability to support certification or interoperability," he said.

Broadcom is touting its 802.11ac under the 5G Wi-Fi moniker, which does not please some industry rivals who fear it will cause confusion with cellular 4G technologies, but Broadcom claim its partners back the branding. "We are absolutely seeing support for the 5G branding across our partners," said Bekis.

"As we roll out a branding plan, obviously it always takes some time to get it adopted fully by the broad industry. But we do believe this is something that is going to be very important, and we are seeing pretty strong, positive feedback from our partners," he said.

"Our intent is not to make this a Broadcom brand but more of an industry-wide branding exercise, which we believe is something that can make the technology a lot more approachable to the common user," Bekis said.

For more:
- see this Broadcom release
- see this Anandtech post
- see this SmallNetBuilder article

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