The San Diego wireless technology giant on Monday announced its latest Wi-Fi chips, which are designed to help handle the wave of connected TVs, security cameras, pet monitors, thermostats and other Internet of Things gadgets forecast to reach the market in the next few years.
Qualcomm estimates that the average number of Wi-Fi connected devices per four-person household will grow from eight in 2012 to 50 by 2022.
The company said its latest Wi-Fi technology delivers four times more capacity than today’s top Wi-Fi routers, along with boosting speeds and expanding coverage area.
“It is taking Wi-Fi to a new level from a user-experience point of view,” said Rahul Patel, senior vice president and general manager of connectivity at Qualcomm Technologies. “What it is trying to do is prepare the Wi-Fi network, which in many cases is experiencing a lot of congestion, largely because the network is becoming dense and is not able to deal with the amount of traffic.”
The technology — called 802.11ax — is the next evolutionary step on the Wi-Fi industry’s road map for improvements. Qualcomm is the first company to announce 802.11ax chips.
But the 802.11ax standard is still a work in progress. While Patel said Qualcomm’s new chips could show up in some top-tier routers and Wi-Fi access points late this year, the technology likely won’t expand into smartphones, laptops, cars and other gadgets until 2018 or 2019.
Wi-Fi was originally designed for local computer networks, replacing the need for Ethernet cables. Over time it has emerged as a popular way for households and businesses to wirelessly connect all kinds of devices, ranging from smartphones to smart TVs. Its use is growing with the rise of the Internet of Things.
“Wi-Fi’s role is expanding,” said CCS Insights, an industry research firm, in a report this year. “It’s no longer a simple Internet connectivity method, but is developing to support communications between a wide range of devices. Given Wi-Fi’s ubiquity and range, it will be hard to resist.”
As the number of connected Wi-Fi devices grows, Wi-Fi networks need to be able to manage dense data demands and a mix of applications, including video.
“The challenge is we are going to experience a lot of congestion,” Patel said. “The frequency bands are unchanging, but people have a lot more going on.”
Qualcomm’s 802.11ax chip portfolio taps techniques used in cellular communications to improve Wi-Fi efficiency without the need for more spectrum — the airwaves that carry wireless data.
Instead of adding lanes of spectrum to get Wi-Fi network traffic flowing, Qualcomm said it’s better managing Wi-Fi traffic in existing lanes so emails and video can be delivered smoothly.
The growing dependence on Wi-Fi hasn’t gone unnoticed by broadband service providers. This month, Cox Communications launched Panoramic Wi-Fi in San Diego and other markets.
For $10 a month, subscribers get a high-power Wi-Fi router with current generation technology, called 802.11ac. Cox technicians then pinpoint parts of the home where the signal weakens. They then can provide extenders, which plug into the home’s coaxial network to expand Wi-Fi signals and eliminate dead zones.
“There are more devices in the home and they’re doing more things, whether that’s gaming or streaming or working from home,” said Suzanne Schlundt, vice president of field marketing for Cox. “Consumers are really looking at dead zones now. They want the best Wi-Fi experience.”
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