Market Insight

802.11ax, Wi-Fi standard for the Internet-of-Things

February 20, 2017  | Subscribers Only

Christian Kim Christian Kim Senior Analyst, IoT & Connectivity
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On Monday February 13th, Qualcomm made an announcement about its upcoming 802.11ax products IPQ8074 and QCA6290. This article will include the highlights from Qualcomm’s announcement, in addition to IHS Technology’s insights and market outlook for the upcoming 802.11ax standard.

Qualcomm’s upcoming products

IPQ8074 is a Networking System-on-Chip (SoC) for 802.11ax access points. The SoC supports 12-streams (eight 5GHz and four 2.4Ghz, 8x8 MU-MIMO) of data that is advertised to deliver 4 times more throughput compared to most of the four stream (4x4 MU-MIMO) 802.11ac Wave2 access points that are currently in the market.

QCA6290 is an 802.11ax chip for client devices. In order to enjoy the full benefit to an 802.11ax-enabled access point, client devices, such as mobile PCs, tablets and smartphones will also need to include an 802.11ax chip like the QCA6290.

Technical details

Below is a quick summary of the key technologies inside Qualcomm’s IPQ8074 chip.

  • 1024 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (1024-QAM): 1024-QAM is an improved modulation technique that yields a theoretical single-stream data rate of 600Mbps using 80MHz channel width. This is a 39% improvement over the theoretical single-stream data rate (433Mbps) of the previous 802.11ac Wave2 specification.
  • 8x8 Multiuser-MIMO (8x8 MU-MIMO): The IPQ8074 is capable of simultaneously maintaining eight streams of data. This 8x8 MU-MIMO feature doubles the data rate compared to the current generation of 4x4 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wave2 access points.
  • Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA): OFDMA is the multi-user version of the previous version of Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing (OFDM) digital modulation scheme. Through sharing preamble overhead, more data can be delivered to client devices resulting in more efficient delivery of data to multiple devices.

Near-term outlook

Qualcomm expects sampling of IPQ8074 and QCA6290 will start in the first half of 2017. During the analyst conference call, Qualcomm’s management anticipated the first 802.11ax based product – most likely a retail access point – will be released in the market sometime in late 2017.

IHS Markit analysis

Below is a summary of IHS Technology’s views on the 802.11ax standard:

  • As increasing numbers of Wi-Fi-enabled devices are added into homes and enterprises, the maximum data transmission rate between an access point and a single client device is no longer a relevant use case scenario. Because of this, Maximum PHY rate (also refer to as transmission rate, or peak rate) has been changing from the most popular metric to measure the effectiveness of a Wi-Fi standard to one of the prerequisites.
  • Data throughput or capacity (i.e. total amount of data delivered to all users or all client devices) is becoming the one of the most important factor for measuring the effectiveness of a Wi-Fi technology. The 8x8 MU-MIMO and OFDMA technologies included in the 802.11ax standard have been implemented in order to ensure data are delivered to multiple devices more efficiently.
  • The 802.11ax standard is optimized for use in densely populated areas, such as metropolitan apartment buildings, carrier public Wi-Fi hotspots, and sports stadiums. In addition to the retail access points for early adopters, access points targeted for the above applications are expected to be the first group of 802.11ax products that will come into the market.
  • Qualcomm’s announced products will be based on draft 1.0 of the 802.11ax specifications, which was finalized and released back in December of 2016. The final specification of the 802.11ax standard is expected to be published in 2019. Although 802.11ax enabled products will be released before the final specification is rectified, the mass adoption of the 802.11ax standard is expected to commence after the final specification is published in 2019.
  • The 802.11ax standard operates on both 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz frequency band. This enables Qualcomm to offer backward compatibility with legacy Wi-Fi standards. All the Wi-Fi enabled devices using legacy Wi-Fi standards will be able to connect to 802.11ax access points.

IHS Markit estimates that total 802.11ax-enabled device shipments will increase from 116,000 units in 2019 to 58 million units in 2021. Although the 802.11ax standard is not expected to ramp up in the short-term, it is expected to become the most popular Wi-Fi standard in the next decade. Wi-Fi technology is at the forefront of the IoT revolution. As a greater number of Wi-Fi-enabled devices are added into homes and enterprises, the 802.11ax standard will gain more prominence in the market place.

++ IHS Markit’s High Performance Wireless service plans to include market forecast for the 802.11ax standard when the first 802.11ax enabled product enters the market which is expected in late 2017 ++

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