Broadcom faces strong competition from Qualcomm, Quantenna, Celeno, Intel and others in the Wi-Fi chip business.
Fabless chip maker Broadcom has teamed up with wireless optimization specialist Plume to develop and distribute technologies for mitigating interference in unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum. Interference remains a major cause of erratic performance and patchy coverage in wireless home networks.
The two vendors, both California based, aim to enable consistent high QoS good enough for premium services by eliminating or at least greatly reducing the impact of interference both from nearby Wi-Fi networks and other sources of rogue electromagnetic radiation. They also aim to give broadband or pay TV operators much greater control from the cloud over performance of home Wi-Fi networks served by their fixed line infrastructures.
Plume CEO and co-founder Fahri Diner indicated that his company had been motivated by noting how much mobile broadband operators were prepared to pay for small slivers of licensed wireless spectrum just to avoid wireless interference within their services. This suggested there was scope for Wi-Fi to come in and deliver equivalent or greater QoS through interference mitigation.
“There’s trillions of dollars of value in the ultra-wide, unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum if, and only if, one could deal with the complex challenges of providing an equivalent quality of user experience,” said Diner. “Unlocking this inherent value requires two fundamental innovations – highly advanced techniques to dynamically manage the unlicensed spectrum for interference mitigation across time and space; and a massively scalable, cloud based unified control plane which can look across multiple hardware platforms to perform joint optimizations of all parameters in heterogeneous carrier network environments.”
Broadcom and Plume have also cooperated to pre-integrate the Plume Agent onto a range of Broadcom silicon platforms for xPON, xDSL, Wi-Fi router and range extenders, including those incorporating the new Max Wi-Fi 11ax ecosystem. Among the latter is Broadcom’s flagship BCM43684 802.11ax package designed for the residential Wi-Fi market and optimized for video QoS.
The interference mitigation makes use of Broadcom’s Air-IQ feature, which can scan and identify sources of both Wi-Fi and non-Wi-Fi interference. This also helps service providers identify other specific causes of performance degradation with finer granularity than before.
But even armed with these techniques Wi-Fi performance can degrade for other reasons, such as a user moving to a part of a building where the signal is weak because it is a long way from the nearest Wi-Fi Access Point (AP), or separated by a thick stone wall. Therefore other measures are needed, including deployment of APs in mesh arrangements creating multiple paths between points for enhanced performance, coverage and redundancy. Then client and band steering can be used to ensure that devices are kept locked onto the best frequency band, either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz, and onto the AP with the strongest signal, while allowing coordination across the whole Wi-Fi domain. The objective is to make Wi-Fi operate more like a wired network with fixed point to point connections configured in a mesh for resiliency.
In this case, while Air-IQ and ZeroWaitDFS enable assisted interference mitigation and channel selection, the Plume Adaptive Wi-Fi platform can also perform joint optimizations across multiple apartments in MDU (Multi Dwelling Unit) environments, employing tightly coupled band and client steering across the carrier gateway Wi-Fi and distributed extender APs (wireless access points).
It also supports back-haul link selection, channel assignment and optimization in multi-AP whole-home environments using Plume’s Auto-Channel-Hop technology. The overall aim here is to optimize performance across the network as a whole and avoid selfish behavior by single devices, given that in the long run all users will benefit from an even-handed approach.
Broadcom’s Wi-Fi chip rivals are also collaborating with relevant technology partners to address the home Wi-Fi quality challenge. For example, in July 2017 Quantenna Communications, which specializes in Wi-Fi chips, announced a strategic partnership with Turkish Wi-Fi technology vendor AirTies, to develop a complete Wi-Fi package for home connectivity. The partnership entails Quantenna incorporating AirTies’ Wi-Fi mesh technology into its chips to enable operators to offer differentiated services with different classes of QoS.
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