We have more devices than ever before, and use them to power our smart homes, organize our lives –and push Wi-Fi to its limit. Your customers expect you to make sure they have all the bandwidth they need, but high-speed broadband requires more than a wired fiber line! It needs compatible equipment. Even if you’ve installed a high-quality, Wi-Fi transparent media panel to get clear signals, the technology that sends and receives that signal needs to be top notch as well.  

Manufacturers are eager to get next-generation equipment to market as well. In a recent conversation with the Register, Qualcomm, a semiconductor and telecommunications company said that the demand for faster Wi-Fi speeds is so great that they can’t wait for new standards to be released. Qualcomm and other manufactures are currently producing devices that use the 802.11ax standard, which will not be released until sometime in 2019.

One of the features in Qalcomm’s 802.11ax chipsets is 8×8 MU-MIMO technology, which will deliver double the Wi-Fi speeds that are currently available. To understand how this works, you need to know a little about the evolution of the technology. It began with the advent of MIMO.

What is MIMO?

For the last decade, most routers and Wi-Fi devices have used MIMO technology. MIMO stands for multiple input multiple output, and the technology, as described by Intel, is made up of transmitters and receivers that use a natural radio wave phenomenon called multipath.

With Wi-Fi, the path of radio waves is changed by the walls, furniture, and other obstructions in your customers’ homes. Waves from the same transmitter will hit the receiver from different angles and at slightly different times. According to Intel, this used to cause interference that slowed down the signal. MIMO technology works with multipath by using multiple smart transmitters and receivers that use spatial diversity technology to better interpret the multiple waves.

Multiple transmitters and receivers on smart antennae are beneficial even when your customer is not sending multiple radio signals to their router. When there are more antennae than streams of data, a MIMO system puts the other receivers and transmitters to work boosting the signal.

What is MU-MIMO?

The next generation of this technology is MU-MIMO (multi-user multi-input multi-output), also known as Wave 2 wireless. MU-MIMO uses the 802.11ac protocol, which is becoming more common. First generation MIMO uses 802.11n. As the name suggests, the big improvement that MU-MIMO offers is the ability to handle multiple users simultaneously. MIMO speeds up the radio signal, but it still handles each data stream on a first-come-first-served basis.

MU-MIMO divides the signal into separate streams that can share the bandwidth in a process known as spatial reuse. Until recently, MU-MIMO routers could handle 2×2, 3×3, or 4×4 streams. This means they can send and receive with either 2, 3, or 4 devices simultaneously.

The 8×8 MU-MIMO chipset Qualcomm is producing will double the Wi-Fi capacity of 4×4 MU-MIMO and offers improved energy efficiency. With today’s routers the signal is always active, so the device is always consuming energy. 8×8 MIMO allows your customers to set a time to turn the signal off. This is called target wakeup time (TWT). This has the potential to reduce the power consumption by as much as 67%.

Qualcomm will be sending samples of the 8×8 MIMO chipset out in the next few months, and devices that use the new technology should be available in early 2019.

Where does this leave your customer? They will probably wait for 8×8 MU-MIMO, well beyond 2019 because the first routers to market will be very expensive. Currently, good quality 4×4 MU-MIMO routers are available for well under $500.

While bandwidth requirements have been accelerating, a good 4×4 MU-MIMO will likely satisfy your customers’ need for speed until 8×8 MIMO devices become affordable. In the meantime, they should look for devices that use the 802.11ac protocol at the very least.