Broadcom is unveiling its Max WiFi chips today based on the next-generation Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ax, which is designed to improve download speeds by four times and upload speeds by six times. Max WiFi also promises four times better coverage and seven times better battery life than the current 802.11ac standard.
The Singapore-based company said its chips will be the heart of an entire ecosystem of Wi-Fi routers, residential gateways, enterprise access points, and client devices that deliver faster Wi-Fi. It’s just in time for households that are consuming far more internet content than in the past. Products based on the new standard and the chips being announced today could appear in 2018 or 2019.
Americans spend five hours a day on mobile devices, up 20 percent in 2016, according to Flurry Analytics. And 80 percent of mobile traffic happens over Wi-Fi. More than 15 billion Wi-Fi connected devices were shipped globally by 2016, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance. The IEEE engineering society predicts there will be 50 billion connected wireless devices by 2022. By that time, an average family of four will have about 50 connected devices, according to Gartner.
But 802.11ac Wi-Fi can’t handle much more than five to eight devices. Broadcom’s Max WiFi chips — BCM43684, BCM43694, and BCM4375 — are designed for tasks like streaming real-time video. 802.11ax has been in discussion for a few years, and the IEEE working group could vote on the final standard sometime next year. Broadcom believes its chips being announced today will be compatible with the standard, as it is following a similar strategy that it pursued with 802.11ac in 2012.
Max WiFi is the sixth generation of Wi-Fi and the most powerful standard yet, with innovations that go beyond speed. Broadcom said Max WiFi supports delivery of simultaneous video, voice, data, and Internet of Things services to larger numbers of wireless devices. This means that steady, high-speed Wi-Fi with good service quality will be available to consumers in homes, offices, and high-traffic public venues such as stadiums.
“Our reliance on Wi-Fi has increased tremendously as we stream live experiences over social media and upload pictures and files to the cloud while also connecting the many ‘things’ around our home,” said Greg Fischer, senior vice president for Broadcom Carrier Access at Broadcom, in a statement. “Max WiFi, based on 802.11ax, is designed from the bottom up to address these evolving consumer needs. With the launch of the Max WiFi ecosystem, Broadcom has yet again pioneered the generational transition of Wi-Fi.”
Broadcom has also optimized Internet uploads, making it easy to do social media livestreaming and cloud storage. According to Extreme Networks, 11.8 terabytes of data was generated at this year’s Super Bowl by fans posting videos, updating statuses, and streaming live from the stadium.
In homes, existing Wi-Fi networks are under strain. Max WiFi uses a technology called Uplink and Downlink Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA). This feature of 802.11ax significantly increases the efficiency and capacity. It allows several devices to communicate concurrently in parts of the frequency spectrum that are allocated in proportion to their needs. It also does more sophisticated scheduling of downlink and uplink service quality.
Max WiFi also uses Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) technology to increase channel capacity when servicing multiple simultaneous devices. It reduces power consumption by putting devices to sleep, helping to increase battery life. And it allows access points to more efficiently share channel capacity by making smart decisions on when to transmit data.
Broadcom is sampling Max WiFi chips to its early access partners in retail, enterprise and smartphone, service provider, and carrier segments. Numerous companies, from D-Link to Microsoft, voiced support for 802.11ax technology.
Andrew Zignani, senior analyst at ABI Research, said that the 802.11ax protocol is significant for users because it is backward-compatible with older Wi-Fi devices and helps networks deal with a wireless traffic explosion.