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Gigabit Wireless? Five 802.11ac Routers, Benchmarked

Broadcom: Insider Comments, Continued

Tom's Hardware: Is the 80 MHz limit in today’s routers enforced at the hardware level rather than in firmware? I’m sure people will want to hack their way to the higher speed if possible.

Broadcom: No, it’s not in firmware. The 80 MHz cap is currently done at the hardware level.

Tom's Hardware: With 802.11n, we had the potential for four spatial streams, and hardly anyone went past three. Now, with 11ac, we have a maximum potential for eight. Will we take advantage of it?

Broadcom: True, 11n supported up to four spatial streams. There weren’t many folks that implemented that. Broadcom did three, then two for the tablet space and one for mobile phones. Three was for high-end PCs and infrastructure. When you go to 11ac, yes, the standard supports up to eight. From what we’ve seen from our market analysis and customers, there’s an aesthetics angle. In North America and Europe, everybody loves sleek designs and embedded antennas. When you go to Asia, the more visible the antennas, the higher the perceived performance level of the device. I found that interesting from a cultural perspective. But what we’re hearing from customers is that their view in terms of trading cost and performance is three spatial streams is probably what the vast majority will want to deploy for infrastructure. And certainly, three spatial streams of 11ac over 11n will give you a 3x capability improvement. I don’t see strong interest in 11ac, at least at this point, for anything beyond that. Additional spatial streams might give you some incremental performance improvement, but you’re going to pay a significant cost premium for that.

Tom's Hardware: Look six months out and describe a common use scenario for 802.11ac and the bandwidth required behind it.

Broadcom: You know, AT&T U-verse has been a watershed launch event for this industry. You’ve seen the ads, maybe, where they have this wireless set-top box receiver out by the pool or wherever they want without having to worry about a cord being connected to it. Every one of the carriers we’ve spoken to is trying to move toward that. So you couple that with very high bandwidth, whole-home DVRs, wireless DVRs transmitting multiple programs simultaneously to different TVs. You’ve got these portable devices in the home with friends coming in or you wanting to share on a big screen. All these things take up bandwidth. So if you’re slicing and dicing today where, in the best case, you have maybe 300 to 400 Mb/s of throughput, when you’re talking about HD video streams, especially 3D, you’re anywhere from 10 to 25 Mb/s per stream. You quickly start consuming the capability of your home’s router. So moving to 11ac is going to let you share video, both at the consumer and carrier level.