Move over, 802.11ac Wi-Fi: Qualcomm's shipping even faster 802.11ad tech this fall

Qualcomm CES 2015
Mark Hachman

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LAS VEGAS—Just when the industry was getting used to those new, blazing fast 802.11ac routers, Qualcomm promises that it will have a tri-band 802.11ad access point later this year.

Mobile processor king Qualcomm didn't have much to say on the application processor front at its keynote address here at the Consumer Electronics Show. Instead, Qualcomm president Derek Aberle used his speech to stake out new ground in the emerging markets of wireless connectivity: the car, healthcare, the Internet of Things, and the smart home.

"Now as we look ahead we see a lot of momentum and innovation around smartphones, taking new technologies to new segments," Aberle said.

Rockin' 802.11ad routers

Beginning Tuesday, however, Qualcomm plans to show off a tri-band access point chipset—the heart of a router, in other words—that combines 60-GHz 802.11ad technology with both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz frequencies of 802.11ac Wi-Fi. It will be available in the second half of the year, Qualcomm said. (None of these announcements were on display during Aberle's keynote; they will all be showed off at Qualcomm's booth.)

In 2013, we predicted that tri-band routers would ship around 2015, most likely favoring WiGig, the brand the Wi-Fi Alliance gave to 802.11ad. (WirelessHD is a competing 60GHz spec, with products available now.) So far, the 802.11ad technology appears to be most useful to create "zones", in Aberle's words, where 4K video could be streamed from point to point—say, from a receiver to a television.

That makes sense, since 802.11ad is indeed faster than current Wi-Fi, but has difficulty penetrating physical objects (like walls). That limitation no doubt plays into Qualcomm's decision to create a chipset that includes both 802.11ad as well as the more flexible, wall-penetrating 802.11ac.

Qualcomm also gathered endorsements from networking gear vendors who plan to use the company's awkwardly-named Qualcomm Atheros MU-MIMO technology, AKA Qualcomm MU | EF. Multiuser MIMO technology allows multiple users to tap into the advantages of MIMO across different points in the room. The vendors included Acer (notebooks), Archer (AC2600 router) Amped Wireless (the C2550 router), Buffalo (the WXR2533 router), D-Link, NEC, TP-Link, TRENDnet (the TEW-827DRU router) and Xiaomi (smartphones). They all plan to either connect to or integrate the Qualcomm Qualcomm Atheros QCA9880 VIVE 802.11ac chipset.

Qualcomm also plans to demonstrate 4K video streaming over LTE, using combined download speeds of over 450 Mbits/s over three 20 MHz radio channels, Aberle said.

Moving into the car

Sunday night, Nvidia launched the Tegra X1, a chip that the company hopes will be the foundation of the connected-car and self-driving car platforms of the future.

Hoping not to be left out, Qualcomm plans to show off concept cars based on the 2015 Maserati Quattroporte GTS and the 2015 Cadillac XTS that include a variety of Qualcomm's Snapdragon processors, including the Snapdragon 602a automotive chip as well as its Gobi 4G LTE wireless modem.

Qualcomm also plans to work with Walgreens to help connect some of its connected health devices, such as a blood pressure cuff, to help patients actively track their health data, Aberle said.

Why this matters: For Qualcomm, the expansion into new markets helps seed opportunities for new business. But we're excited just to lern that Wi-Fi Alliance certified 60GHz tech is on the way. Streaming 4k video over wireless? Sign us up!

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