Qualcomm introduces mesh networking platform for next era of whole-home Wi-Fi connectivity

Qualcomm's Mesh Networking Platform is based on the Qualcomm IPQ40x8/9 network system-on-a-chip, which is used in nearly every mesh networking product available today.

Just in time for the Computex Taipei trade show in Taipei, Taiwan, this week, Qualcomm Technologies announced the Qualcomm Mesh Networking Platform, which not only recognizes the forthcoming 802.11ax standard but also pays heed to talking assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and Samsung’s new Bixby.

Qualcomm already offers mesh networking solutions; its mesh platform is based on the Qualcomm IPQ40x8/9 network system-on-a-chip, which, the company notes, is used in nearly every mesh networking product available today. Now it’s building on that with new capabilities like voice assistance and internet of things (IoT) radio integration.

The platform is geared toward OEMs and broadband carriers—whoever is providing the internet connection to the home, like cable companies—for them to incorporate into their offerings. There’s also the Qualcomm Mesh Networking Reference Design, which is supposed to provide OEMs with a path for developing next-generation products.

According to Irvind Ghai, vice president of product management at Qualcomm, the whole point is to simplify things in the home.

“One of the biggest market trends we’ve seen over the past year is the mesh network gateways,” he told FierceWirelessTech. That entails a core gateway and either nodes or repeaters that go with it; in many cases, the package the consumer gets has three or four devices.

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NetGear Orbi, for example, one of the leading retail brands for the North American market, involves a main gateway that connects to nodes positioned elsewhere in the home to provide better Wi-Fi coverage. These products are based today on 802.11ac Wave 2 with Qualcomm’s multiuser MIMO capability. Eero is another example; it uses three nodes that can be placed around the house.

The underlying principle is the same: A centralized gateway architecture with a multinode mesh solution provides coverage throughout the home, with nodes placed, for instance, on an upstairs floor, the main floor and maybe the garage or a basement, creating a resilient network. If one node goes down, another is there in the mesh. What Qualcomm is talking about at Computex is how to take these and transition them to 802.11ax.

Qualcomm announced an end-to-end 802.11ax portfolio in February, including support for network infrastructure and client devices. It has 11ax product sampling now, and the first product is expected to show up in the retail channel when the holiday shopping season kicks off in November, with the first carrier-based and enterprise-class products due in March 2018.

“We’re seeing a quick shift to 11ax,” Ghai said. 802.11ax focuses primarily on expanding network capacity and making better use of Wi-Fi spectrum to maintain connectivity in more complex environments.

The Qualcomm Mesh Networking Platform includes support for a variety of backhaul options that can be used to maximize the performance of mesh networks, including 802.11ac, 802.11ad, 802.11ax or Powerline technologies.

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The IoT connectivity feature suite is designed to help ensure compatible and simultaneous use of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and CSRmesh connectivity and 802.15.4-based technologies across a network while also supporting previously announced communication protocols, cloud services and software frameworks.

Carrier-grade features were created to make it easier for carriers to enhance their broadband services with Wi-Fi self-organizing, making APIs available for easier porting of SON onto other silicon platforms. Qualcomm is also enabling software features like cloud-based diagnostics to enable remote monitoring, diagnostics and analytics for troubleshooting, i.e., fewer truck rolls.

On the integrated voice front, the platform can support a built-in microphone array and speaker as well as voice recognition software and also supports APIs to the most popular cloud-based assistant applications.