New Wi-Fi technologies might not seem particularly sexy, but they’re critical to the growing IoT market. Whereas routers were once primarily judged on raw speed and signal strength, new models sport a bevy of fancy features designed for households with multiple Internet-connected devices. This is where Broadcom’s new 5G Wi-Fi XStream MU-MIMO platform comes into play.
In terms of speed, the second generation platform boasts 5.4Gbps of total Wi-Fi data throughput, though that’s an aggregate derived from adding the maximum theoretical throughput of both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels. Even so, that metric gives Broadcom the right to claim it has the fastest router platform available today.
You'll also want to read this MU-MIMO primer.
At least equally important, Broadcom’s new chipset becomes the fourth (after Marvel, Qualcomm, and Quantenna) to support multi-user-MIMO (MU-MIMO). This enables the router to transmit data to more than one client device at the same time. That’s a huge benefit over single-user MIMO (SU-MIMO) routers, which must service clients in a round-robin fashion.
Broadcom’s new platform brings some other tricks to the trade, as well. This is a 4x4 chipset, which means it can transmit and receive four data streams simultaneously (although that’s dependent on having a 4x4 client). And its zero-wait dynamic frequency selection (DFS) is supposed to enable routers to hop from channel to channel to avoid interference. Broadcom’s SmartConnect technology automatically directs client devices to one of its three simultaneously operating Wi-Fi networks (two on the 5GHz frequency band and one on the 2.4GHz band), so that fast clients aren’t held back by slow ones.
Why this matters: The combination of MU-MIMO and the ability to operate three independent networks what’s of interest here. When we compared the dual-band 4x4 MU-MIMO Linksys EA8500 to the tri-band 3x3 SU-MIMO Asus RT-AC3200U, we found the Asus did a better job with multiple clients. We won’t know until we benchmark a shipping router, but it stands to reason that combining the capabilities of MU-MIMO with tri-band could deliver the best of both worlds.
Broadcom says its chip is currently sampling, which means you can’t buy a router powered by the chip today. But executives from Asus, D-Link, and Netgear all provided quotes for the company’s press release, so you don’t need to look too deeply into a crystal ball to see Broadcom-based routers from those builders in the next quarter or two.