Qualcomm's new 802.11ax chips will ramp up your Wi-Fi

The two chips, one for routers and the other for clients, are slated to deliver Wi-Fi faster with dramatically better coverage.

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
2 min read
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Your home Wi-Fi performance will soon get much better thanks to new Wi-Fi chips that Qualcomm announced today, the IPQ8074 system-on-chip (SoC) for broadcasters (routers and access points) and the QCA6290 SoC for receivers (Wi-Fi devices). They belong to the first end-to-end commercial Wi-Fi portfolio to support the all-new 802.11ax standard.

What is 802.11ax?

In a nutshell, it's the next step in the evolution of Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi has evolved a great deal since the debut of 802.11b in 1999. After that we have 802.11g, 802.11n and the 802.11ac which is currently the most popular.

Like 802.11ac, the new 802.11ax is backward compatible with previous Wi-Fi generations. However, it's the first standard that focuses not only on faster speed but also on Wi-Fi efficiency, or network capacity, especially in crowded air space. This means 802.11ax allows for faster real-world speed than previous standards. That said, on paper, 802.11ax can be four times faster than 802.11ac. Also, an 802.11ax router helps existing pre-802.11ax Wi-Fi devices have faster speed thanks to its ability to manage traffic diversity and overcome the density of overlapping networks.

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Qualcomm says the IPQ8074 is a highly-integrated all-in-one platform designed for access points, gateways and routers. The 14nm chip integrates an 11ax radio, MAC and baseband, and a quad-core 64-bit A53 CPU as well as a dual-core network accelerator. It uses a 12x12 Wi-Fi configuration (8x8 on the 5GHz band and 4x4 on the 2.4GHz band) and supports MU-MIMO for uplink. As a result, it can deliver up to 4.8 Gbps while maintaining fast connections over a larger coverage area than any 802.11ac chip.

The chip also features Qualcomm's Wi-Fi Self-Organizing Network (SON) which simplifies installation and optimizes traffic.

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On the client side, Qualcomm says the QCA6290 SoC can offer up to a 4x increase in throughput speed in a crowded network. It supports 2x2 MU-MIMO and can realize the full benefits of the 8x8 MU-MIMO thanks to its 8x8 sounding mechanism. The chip can combine 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands using its Dual Band Simultaneous (DBS) feature to deliver up to 1.8 Gbps Wi-Fi speed. Compared with 802.11ac, the chip can reduce power consumption by two thirds.

Qualcomm says it expects to sample both of these chips in the first part of 2017. That means there's a chance consumer 802.11ax devices will be available later this year.

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