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New boy gets to nextgen Wifi first?


Published: 18 November, 2011


How difficult is it today to build a chip which adheres to the IEEE 802.11ac standard? So far the only player that has done it is Quantenna, but to do it, it has borrowed from its MIMO know-how, which had it in the lead in the current generation of 11n Wifi.

Where are Broadcom, Atheros, Texas Instruments, Ralink , Marvell or even Intel in this fight? Apparently not ready. But much of that may be down to one of the ideas that are inherent in 11ac - MIMO up to 8 radios, rather than the more obvious problems of addressing up to 160 MHz of spectrum in one go and implementing 256 QAM as a high density modulation.

Already Quantenna with just 4 radios/antennas talks about its new system as offering a 2 Gbps PHY - most players are intent on offering a 1 Gbps PHY, which implies no more than 2 separate streams. If this carries on Quantenna can use its beamforming breakthroughs to win at every level of WiFi, and the big guys need to catch up and catch up fast.

The proof will come in the unit pricing - will Quantenna price itself out of the general purpose market - will it be so much more expensive to buy a 4 x 4 MIMO chip than a 1 x 1 or 2 x 2? Well if Quantenna gets to market first and makes design wins, it can use volume to bring its prices down in line with the market bulk shipments, and then it will have one hell of an advantage. Each extra radio potentially adds up to 500 Mbps in the PHY speed.

Which is why it is announcing now, and why its announcement is almost certain to trigger 4 or 5 similar announcements between now and the end of the CES show in January. These big guys cannot allow Quantenna to slip into the lead because 802.11ac is going to offer it the lead on hundreds of millions of chip shipments which they have already factored in as their own.

For a full analysis of this subject go to and order this week's Faultline issue.

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