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Qualcomm Bids for 802.11ax

February 28, 2017

Author: Loring Wirbel

Qualcomm is betting on a healthy OEM transition from the popular 802.11ac Wi-Fi to the emerging 802.11ax. It preannounced 1H17 sampling of both access-point (AP) and client chips for the next-generation standard, which is moving to an IEEE ballot this year. Smartphones and tablets may see speeds as great as several gigabits per second, though the biggest advantage for both consumer and access-point devices will be more capacity per hot spot in dense wireless environments.

The new standard retains the 2.4GHz and 5GHz unlicensed bands of its predecessors, but it uses both orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) and multiuser orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA) to achieve better reliability and immunity from interference, along with higher speeds. An 802.11ax AP will support 12 frequency streams (eight at 5GHz and four at 2.4GHz), 8x8 MU-MIMO, and 80MHz channels.

Qualcomm’s infrastructure IC, the IPQ8074, is a quad-core device based on 64-bit ARM Cortex-A53 cores that integrate dual 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios, offering a peak speed of 5.8Gbps. It’s the second announced 802.11ax AP chip, following Quantenna’s QSR10G-AX, which was announced in 4Q16 but has yet to sample. Its most direct predecessors in the IPQ family are the IPQ40x8 and IPQ40x9, which arrived quietly in late 2015 to support 802.11ac access points. Alongside the new IPQ, Qualcomm has also announced the single-chip QCA6290 for high-end smartphones, laptops, and tablets, as well as for automotive and other emerging markets.

The AP- and client-chipset markets will attract a troika of early contenders: Broadcom, Qualcomm, and newly public Quantenna. As high-volume client markets emerge, however, new entrants could include Celeno, Intel, Marvell, MediaTek, Microchip, Realtek, Redpine Signals, Samsung, and STMicroelectronics. The number of potential contenders indicates that those with 802.11n/g designs cannot afford to wait as the market takes off.

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