Qualcomm has chipsets on the way that use new antenna technology to boost Wi-Fi download speeds in crowded spaces where lots of people are competing for bandwidth.
The growing popularity of Wi-Fi has hurt performance as more devices try to use public access points, according to Todd Antes, vice president at Qualcomm Atheros, the division responsible for the development.
"Many of us have had the experience when you're in an airport, for example, and literally a hundred people or more are vying for access through a single access point. In some cases you can be limited to mere kilobits of throughput, if not disconnected," he said.
The problem is that access points or wireless routers use short time slots to communicate with only one user at a time, and as more users get connected the network can get overloaded. MU-MIMO (multi user-multiple-input multiple-output) will help change that by letting networks transmit data to many users simultaneously.
"In our case the network can talk to three clients at a time, so effectively it has a two to three times capacity improvement," Antes said.
Both access points and client devices will need to be updated to use MU-MIMO, so it won't be until the middle of next year that the technology is available to most users.
On Thursday, Qualcomm announced radios for network equipment that can send three or four data streams as well as chipsets for mobile devices and consumer electronics with up to two streams. The number of streams decides the maximum theoretical speed, and two streams are capable of transmitting more than 600Mbps (bits per second), Qualcomm said.
A version of MU-MIMO that can receive one stream is already integrated with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 801 processor, which powers smartphones including the HTC One M8, Samsung's Galaxy S5 and the Z2 from Sony. For the feature to work it needs to be activated with a software update, according to Qualcomm. The upcoming Snapdragon 805 processor has the same functionality.
"We want to give our OEMs confidence that there will be at least one vendor in the market that is rolling out solutions for both ends of the link," Antes said.
The company expects the first home networking equipment with one of its chipsets to arrive at the end of the year or during the first quarter of next year. Enterprise equipment will arrive in the middle of 2015, at the earliest.
Qualcomm isn't the only company working on radios that can handle MU-MIMO. The technology has such a great promise that no chip manufacturer can afford to ignore it.
Quantenna has already started shipping its first chip, which Asus is using in its RT-AC87U router. If the router has functioning MU-MIMO, it should be compatible with Snapdragon 801 devices, according to Qualcomm. Quantenna didn't immediately reply to questions to confirm that.
Until the Wi-Fi Alliance starts conducting interoperability tests there is no guarantee that routers and clients from different vendors will be compatible. That process is expected to start late this year or in the beginning of 2015, Antes said.
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