Leading with an estimated 3x available bandwidth improvement, Qualcomm’s quiet announcement this week of MU-MIMO with VIVE represents one of the most important announcements for users and the Internet of Things that has yet occurred. I’ve been following this technology as it came to market and the fact that Ruckus, arguably the leader in wireless conferences and large crowds, came out in support of it is a significant indication of what a game changer this will likely be. You see, this isn’t just 3x performance; this is also a potential massive increase in the number of people a wireless router or access point can serve.
Let’s talk about what it means to have Gigabit Wireless.
Wireless That’s as Good as Wired
In the end, after you separate out the different acronyms, brand names, and technologies, you end up with wireless that’s as good as wired. What this announcement suggests is performance, at scale, for wireless that is in line with wired networks. Qualcomm has spent over seven years developing this technology and thinking through why Wi-Fi doesn’t give performance in line with its potential. This is the result.
The benefits are far greater loading on wireless access points and routers and far better bandwidth for each and every user.
Wi-Fi Then to Now
One of the annoying things about Wi-Fi, given how much we now use it, is how poorly it scales. As more people get on an access point or wireless router, performance drops off sharply, so much so that at large tech events even getting connected can be a problem. And if you do get connected, it feels like you’ve been dropped into the dark ages because your performance reminds you of the early days of dial-up modems.
This is because, initially, Wi-Fi wasn’t that concerned with loading but focused on making it ever easier to find and connect to a wireless device. Over time, we’ve improved the bandwidth but because the technology was based on a concept that came out of telephone, time division multiplexing, where users were assigned a static time slot whether they needed it or not, performance degraded regardless of what folks were doing.
MU-MIMO works more like a switch in that each user gets more of a dedicated virtual pipe to the router. While you can still have downstream loading issues, much like you would if everyone connected to a switch suddenly decided to stream 4K videos, if folks are mostly doing emails, browsing the web, or staying up with their various internal and external social networks, the result is, much like it is with an enterprise switch, vastly better performance.
Wired Performance on Wi-Fi
What Qualcomm is promising will be delivered in the first half of next year on Wi-Fi routers and access points is a user experience with performance in line with Gigabit switches. Clearly, the greatest need for this is in conferences, large conference rooms and auditoriums, schools, civic centers, or any place where lots of people congregate and expect to be connected. This again speaks to why Ruckus is the supporting vendor because this is the market it increasingly dominates.
But, over time, the promise of no longer having to wire an office, home or conference venue for wired connectivity should drive the technology far more broadly. The days of pulling cable to the desktops will clearly be increasingly numbered.
One of the areas that likely will be the greatest impacted is thin client deployments. These often require dedicated wired connections to assure adequate latency and bandwidth. This technology should enable more wireless thin client deployments and far easier dense electronic signage and potentially far easier deployments of wireless smart TVs in a variety of venues. The full implications of this technology probably won’t be felt until years after it is available.
Wrapping Up: This Is Big
I think this announcement is going to have broad implications for how and where we use wireless technology. It is particularly critical to the idea of the Internet of Things because wireless loading remains a huge impediment to being able to truly instrument large areas and lots of currently disconnected devices. If you can approach the performance of a Gigabit switch with a wireless router or access point, the opportunity to connect lots of things very inexpensively increases massively and, with that, so does the potential to change the world.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+