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Router SoC 101

The Future Of Router SoCs

Just as in-home HD video and game streaming drove the innovations behind MU-MIMO and Wave 2 wireless, IoT and smart-home initiatives are poised to drive capabilities in the next generation of routers. Expect to see more and more devices capable of handling low-power, low-data rate, always-on clients in addition to existing high-end capabilities. Qualcomm is already making forays into this area, and Broadcom will not be far behind. Intel is also collaborating with cellular modem manufacturers and has a grand IoT vision, so expect to see new players in the field.

Another series of innovations will target mobile routers—those with integrated cellular modems. With the number of travelers carrying two or more computing devices (laptops, smartphones, tablets, smartwatches), the demand for small, integrated wireless router/cellular modem combination devices is expected to rise. MediaTek has a solid lead here, with its dominance of the cellular modem/device market, but expect to see solutions pairing MediaTek, Quantenna and Broadcom modems with other router SoCs, whereas Qualcomm will probably provide fully integrated solutions out of the box. We even expect to see Western Digital add more high-end devices to its current mobile line-up.

Another paradigm change is the use of the OpenWrt OS, as more manufacturers embrace its standards and compatibility. Also expect to see greater emphasis on security, in parallel with hardware features designed to support "smart router" functions (i.e., remote administration via smartphone or Web apps, which at the moment, is a feature solely up to individual router manufacturers to implement).

On the negative side, the 2.4 and 5GHz bands used for Wi-Fi are becoming more crowded. Interference from multiple devices on these bands, especially in public and enterprise Wi-Fi spaces, means interference and higher error rates, all of which serve to slow down individual connections regardless of actual hardware capabilities. As this is somewhat of a physics-imposed limitation, expect to see active workarounds that include the shunting of smart-home-appliance and IoT connections to other transmission bands.

The 802.11ah extension to the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard allows the use of sub-1GHz bands for Wi-Fi communications, and will be up for approval in its entirety in March 2016. A sub-component to the “ah” extension, the “HaLow” standard operates on the 900MHz band and was recently approved by the Wi-Fi Alliance. It allows for low-power and high-obstacle-penetration operations.

The next iteration of conventional 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi is expected to be the 802.11ax standard, still in early stages of development, but which promises 10 Gb/s speeds. Finally, expect further work on all the other iterations of 802.11 standards that utilize bands other than the 2.4GHz and 5GHz, specifically 802.11af that uses the unused TV bands (UHF/VHF white-space spectrum) between 54 and 790MHz.

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Gene Fabron is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. Follow her on TwitterFollow us on FacebookGoogle+, RSS, Twitter and YouTube.

  • letapragas
    Awesome job!
    Reply
  • zodiacfml
    Intel do use one of their chips for a similar device.
    Reply
  • QuangT
    Nice article, is there any more on how tech works? Like cpu and gpu?
    Reply
  • bwhiten
    Uhhhh...Those first pictures are not "schematics". They are CAD renderings of the box and main board at best, but definitely not schematics.
    Reply
  • EdJulio
    Uhhhh...Those first pictures are not "schematics". They are CAD renderings of the box and main board at best, but definitely not schematics.

    Thanks, bwhiten. Updated the caption...
    Reply
  • bit_user
    Nice article!

    Small, irrelevant fact: MIPS was once owned by SGI and used in their servers and workstations. They even used a MIPS CPU in the N64, which they designed for Nintendo. In fact, that was largely the outcome of a previous (if not the first) wave of VR hype. But, I digress...

    Also, most people consider ARM to be RISC. Or, at least as much as anything is, these days. Indeed, the name once stood for Advanced RISC Machines.

    But I didn't know what MIPS originally stood for, so thanks for that. I wonder whether or how long that remained true of their architectures.
    Reply
  • EdJulio
    17548227 said:
    Nice article!

    Small, irrelevant fact: MIPS was once owned by SGI and used in their servers and workstations. They even used a MIPS CPU in the N64, which they designed for Nintendo. In fact, that was largely the outcome of a previous (if not the first) wave of VR hype. But, I digress...

    Also, most people consider ARM to be RISC. Or, at least as much as anything is, these days.

    Thanks! I'll share this with Gene! Cheers!!!
    Reply
  • bit_user
    17548234 said:
    Thanks! I'll share this with Gene! Cheers!!!
    Thanks, but I did say it was irrelevant. It really has no bearing on the routers using these chips.
    Reply
  • GeneFabron
    Nice article, is there any more on how tech works? Like cpu and gpu?

    Hi QuangT, we have a Wireless Routers 101 http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/wireless-routers-101,4456.html and a PSUs 101 http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/power-supplies-101,4193.html article, and there will be more coming soon!
    Reply
  • Gabriel_1965
    Question: I've seen a router with 72 cores would that be made to be a 72 core pic and I could use the cores for multi ore computing?
    Reply