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.