Broadcom's New Chip Wants to Help Put 5 GHz 802.11ac Everywhere
5/28/2013 by: Anshel Sag
Leading up to Computex, Broadcom has an announcement that they would like to share with the world. This announcement pertains directly to the future of wireless, as in 802.11ac. This is the newest and latest standard when it comes to WiFi and wireless as it enables speeds once only reserved for wired communication. Some speeds could theoretically surpass a gigabit per second, which is currently what most users have installed for their wired port in their computers. Since the world is growing ever more mobile and wireless, we are beginning to see the rapid growth of wireless technologies in both quantity and speed. There is no doubt that wired communications will still be faster, but in their current implementation, the majority of the world is operating off of Gigabit networks. While I personally hope that this changes, there is little promise for this to change, so we look to wireless for the future.
With 802.11ac, there have been quite a few limitations that have prevented router manufacturers and device makers from deploying this newest technology. First and foremost, 802.11ac operates on the 5 GHz band, which means that anyone without a dual band router or dual band device is instantaneously ruled out. Even though, one must consider that any device with 802.11ac will have to be purchased brand new as it require a completely new set of hardware. Nevertheless, 5 GHz 802.11n is actually quite rare as it stands right now, which is good for people like me that live in an apartment complex filled with 2.4 GHz routers. However, this will change with time and more users will make the switch to 802.11n 5 GHz and 802.11ac 5 GHz.
One of the technologies that will enable this switch is Broadcom's new '5G' WiFi chip. While I'm not a fan of them using this '5G' designation, it is technically the 5th generation of WiFi technology (802.11ac comes after 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11n). I say this because it will surely confuse consumers once LTE Advanced starts to become prevalent as the two technologies are poised to intersect in the next year or two. Broadcom and some analysts expect 802.11ac to take off bigtime over the course of the next year, which will be when LTE Advanced will likely start to roll out. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the carriers and their marketing mavens will decide to slap 5G as a layman's definition for LTE Advanced or if they'll stick with 4G (as they should).
Now, getting to the actual chip that would enable such growth in 802.11ac, it is actually two chips, the BCM4339 and BCM43162 (PCIe based). The latter chip is more intended for laptops and desktops, while the BCM4339 is for really mobile devices like smartphones and some tablets. What the beauty of the BCM4339 is that it allows for all of the features of its predecessor, the BCM4335, but at upto 50% the cost savings in terms of total cost of deployment. This means that the chip itself is not only cheaper, but it allows for a cheaper BOM as well, reducing OEM's cost to integrate 802.11ac. This chip will still support all of the older standards in a dual-band implementation, but simultaneously allow for 433 Mbps downlink speeds.
Broadcom is already leading the 802.11ac mobile device push with their chip, the older BCM4335, being implemented in the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, both being the first smartphones with 802.11ac for sale. I personally own an HTC one and a Western Digital AC1300 router, which is also 802.11ac. From personal experience, I can say that 802.11ac is ridiculously fast and allows for incredibly fast uploads from my phone to Dropbox and Facebook. I even consistently manage to get faster speeds on my Speedtest over WiFi than I do over wired. Needless to say, 802.11ac is an impressive technology, and we're excited to see it implemented in more devices as well as routers. However, until someone implements a single chip 802.11ac router solution, we will likely not see any 'affordable' 802.11ac solutions for quite some time as all current solutions require a separate chip for 802.11ac from the rest of the WiFi bands. Since this announcement, it appears to me that this will be the biggest barrier to 802.11ac implementation above all else. But as always, the future is bright and we're looking forward to seeing a faster wireless future.
WiFi, Wireless, Wi-Fi, 802.11, 802.11n, 802.11ac, AC, 5GHz, 5 GHz, 5G, 1x1, Chip, Connectivity, QAM, 2.4 GHz, 2.4GHz, LTE, 4G
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