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Gigabit Wireless? Five 802.11ac Routers, Benchmarked

Broadcom: Insider Comments

As the single source for 802.11ac silicon, we figured we could interview no one more authoritative on the subject than Broadcom. We sat down with Dino Bekis, senior director of the access and wireless entertainment unit (AWE) and Richard Ybarra, technical marketing for AWE, to get their thoughts on the state of this wireless advance today and what it heralds for tomorrow.

Tom's Hardware: So now we have this new wireless spec that will push a ton of today’s current 2.4 GHz traffic onto the 5.0 GHz band. Aren’t we just going to run into the same congestion issues again a couple of years from now as everyone transitions over?

Broadcom: That possibility is always there, but with the new modulation schemes and using 20, 40, 80, and eventually 160 [MHz channels], we have more modulation schemes to work with. We have more bandwidth capability. So even though it may be congested, we still have a fatter pipe from the modulation schemes to push data. Will it get constricted? Yes, that day will eventually come, but we’re a ways away from that. Especially if we share the two spectrums we have with different types of traffic and different technology, I think it will help the overall wireless spectrum. If we share both of those bands with different technologies, it’ll help alleviate some of that congestion and allow us to do some interesting things in the 5.0 GHz space.

Tom's Hardware: Such as what?

Broadcom: Video streaming is one of our priorities. Obviously, video streaming is a major uptick as far as types of traffic across the Internet. Streaming video, downloading video, projecting video. That takes a lot of bandwidth, and that has to be bandwidth that’s dedicated. We see the 5 GHz space dealing with that pretty efficiently at this point. Maybe we send a lot of our data traffic over 2.4 and we use 5 GHz as more of a mechanism for video transfers. We’re kind of already seeing that now throughout the industry. However, I want to stop short of saying that’s a strict policy that we or any of our customers are advocating.

Tom's Hardware: Obviously, faster is better. But is there more significance to the 802.11ac transition than just another speed jump?

Broadcom: When I look at 5G [fifth-generation] Wi-Fi, four advantages stand out. First, there’s overall throughput, the ability to get really wireless gigabit Ethernet capability available to the home. Up until now, that really has not been achievable. Second, for a given throughput requirement per user and because of that higher aggregate capability, we can support more users on a given network. The radio design itself is more robust than the 802.11n design. We’re getting a lot better performance in terms of rate and range than in the past with 802.11n.

We’re also able to support much lower power for a given amount of data that needs to be transferred than with 802.11n. That’s very important for a couple of different products, whether it’s battery-powered products where you can get better life out of them or whether it’s products plugged into the wall, so they’ll be able to achieve higher efficiencies and lower power consumption, which feeds into some of the green standards for products being rolled out in the industry.

Finally, we have a much more standardized approach across the board to achieving the things than we did before with 11n. For example, we support higher throughputs, like 256-QAM, for applications such as fast synching or side-loading. In the past, these were attempted by various people in proprietary fashions—Turbo Mode, etc. That no longer is required. Before, beamforming mechanisms were proprietary, and now we have a standardized approach to beamforming that will support interoperability across various manufacturers. You don’t have these islands of technology that force you down a specific vendor’s path. You’ve got higher throughput, more users with respect to rate range, lower battery power. Those are all the key benefits to 11ac.