Qualcomm: Service providers demanding 802.11ac in new Wi-Fi gateways

The 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard is gaining momentum as service providers demand inclusion of the technology in the network products they buy and compatible client devices roll out to the mass market, according to a Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) executive.

Qualcomm 802.11ac products

802.11ac products are starting to roll out. View larger image.

"We already see great growth in service providers looking at RFQ's (requests for quotation) for next-generation gateways. I can say across the board they're all including 802.11ac," said Todd Antes, vice president of product management at Qualcomm Atheros, in an interview with FierceBroadbandWireless.

Clearly the operators see that inclusion of 802.11ac technology in end-user devices is ramping up, meaning they need to be ready to deliver high-speed data to those products using the unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum band. "Finally we're starting to see the rollout of major manufacturers' mobile phones and tablets, and soon, PC products, equipped with 802.11ac," said Antes.

Similarly, Greg Ennis, the Wi-Fi Alliance's technical director, told FierceBroadbandWireless in June that 802.11ac is expected to be widely adopted by handset vendors, and this will, in turn, drive adoption in Wi-Fi routers used by hotspot providers.

Antes noted that draft 802.11ac routers and USB sticks arrived on the market about a year ago, but actual sales were tepid. Research released in April 2013 by research firm NPD showed that 802.11ac products accounted for about 7 percent of US retail networking sales.

"It's been an interesting, but small, sliver of the market," Antes added.

Holding back router sales was the fact that it was nearly impossible to find 802.11ac client devices to leverage full end-to-end 802.11ac throughput. And the USB sticks generally were only USB 2.0-capable, which meant their data transfer speeds were limited to 480 Mbps, so they could not fully showcase the advantages of advanced Wi-Fi technology.

But with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Samsung, HTC and others launching mobile devices with embedded 802.11ac, the ecosystem is finally gaining momentum. The Wi-Fi Alliance's 802.11ac certification program, launched two months ago, should also help drive market growth.

Selected for inclusion in the alliance's 802.11ac test bed were two Qualcomm products: the Vive 3-stream dual-band, dual-concurrent router and Vive 3-stream, PCIe client. The vendor says its Vive network platforms, available in both 2- and 3-stream options, deliver data rates up to 866 Mbps and 1.3 Gbps, respectively.

Qualcomm expects that over the next six to 12 months, its 802.11ac technology will be embedded in more than 140 mobile and computing designs and more than 80 networking devices, such as home routers, carrier gateways and enterprise access points. Those numbers include some products already on the shelf.

Antes observed that even enterprises, which tend to be particularly conservative when it comes to adopting new communications technology, are moving into 802.11ac as they replace aging Wi-Fi equipment or launch greenfield operations.

The enterprise market should really take off when what Antes calls 802.11ac "Wave 2" features, such as multiuser MIMO, that offer significant benefits for enterprise access points becoming available in 2015, Antes said.

Among other things, this next wave of 802.11ac will also bring a wider deployment of transmit beamforming coupled with multiuser MIMO as well as the capability to make use of 160 MHz of channel width by combining 80 MHz + 80 MHz channels.

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