There is an ever-increasing need for networks to keep up with exponential demand. Not only is there a multiplication of IT-issued devices within the enterprise, but each employee now carries multiple personal wireless devices. Ever since the advent of BYOD and the assignment of multiple phones, tablets and laptops to employees—as well as IOT devices—there are more devices on networks than ever before. Because of the absolutely insane increase in devices polling network access points for data and the amount and types of data that they are requesting, there is a growing need to upgrade networks to meet these demands. This challenge is being talked about constantly by chipset companies, and they believe that they have the right products and product roadmaps to help solve the data challenge. Companies like Qualcomm, Broadcom, Marvell Technology Group, Quantenna and many others are poised to help manufacturers solve these problems with their newest chipsets.
The Current State of Affairs in Enterprise Wireless
Most current enterprise networks are operating at 802.11n. As a result, their ability to handle the increase in users and the torrent of data flowing through the networks is simply not cutting it. Many of these 802.11n networks also operate on the overly crowded 2.4 GHz spectrum, which suffers from vast amounts of interference and, as a result, poor performance and connectivity. 802.11n does operate on the 5 GHz band as well; however, most dual band 802.11n routers lack the real throughput to exploit the full potential of 5 GHz the way 802.11ac can.
802.11ac is the industry’s answer to data throughput demands with speeds well in excess of 1 Gbps and far fewer competing 5 GHz devices. 802.11ac also reduces latency which enables for more responsive cloud applications and overall wireless performance. The 802.11ac standard is currently in its second phase with the wave 2 revision that brings multi-user multiple input multiple output (MU-MIMO) functionality. MU-MIMO is incredibly valuable to a network and the access points serving that network to client devices because it enables for multiple concurrent connections and sharing of an access point’s bandwidth between devices in order to deliver the best possible performance and efficiency.
Nowadays, all of the latest devices are shipping with 802.11ac wireless technology and companies without 11ac wireless capabilities are losing an opportunity to improve performance and efficiency across their networks. Apple, Samsung, LG, Nokia , Motorola, HTC and Microsoft are all shipping devices that have Wi-Fi with 802.11ac and those devices accounted for the vast majority of new device sales this year and will continue to looking into next year.
Qualcomm Jumps on the Second Wave of 11ac
Qualcomm is introducing an update to its enterprise Wi-Fi solutions with a new feature-rich, high-performance enterprise connectivity platform, including new QCA999X 802.11ac chipsets with wave 2 MU-MIMO capability. Qualcomm VIVE with MU | EFX chipsets (Qualcomm calls its version of MU-MIMO Qualcomm MU|EFX) and the Qualcomm Internet Processor, the IPQ806X, comprise a platform that enables enterprise IT to address one of the industry’s most pressing concerns – enable individual enterprise access points to service more than 500 devices at a time, while also bringing added efficiency, security and throughput.
The company is also offering its FSM99XX series small cell chipsets in order to help join Wi-Fi with cellular connectivity to help spread the load out across the network. This is accomplished using both licensed and unlicensed spectrum and can provide multimode service for both 3G and 4G technologies. In the future can be upgraded to 4G multimode capabilities for even greater cellular throughput.
Applications Processors Become the Core of the Router
Part of the reason why Qualcomm’s new enterprise platform featuring Qualcomm MU | EFX is able to deliver so much performance and to so many concurrent users is because of the company’s pairing of the QCA999X wireless chipset with its Qualcomm Internet Processor (IPQ). The IPQ806X series processor is specifically built to integrate a dual core 1.4 GHz Krait processor (derived from the development of the company’s own Snapdragon mobile processors) with a dual core 730 MHz packet processing engine that is programmable for unique enterprise applications.
Qualcomm’s solution offers 256 QAM modulation with 4×4 configurations, which offer four 80 MHz streams. This enables for some very high throughput and very high user count applications, with up to 512 devices supported on a single radio on an access point. Such configurations allow for broad usage scenarios, such as dense and crowded environments (conferences, shopping malls), with high throughput per user and an overall improved experience when compared to older 802.11n networks.
Qualcomm’s enterprise 802.11ac platform with Qualcomm MU|EFX also delivers all of these feature sets while still fitting within the power constraints of PoE networking. Qualcomm accomplishes this by adopting similar principles that they use in their smartphone and mobile divisions by dynamically voltage and frequency scaling the processors based upon load. As the access points get more load, the IPQ will increase their clock and as their workload decreases, they will reduce their clock to a minimum base clock. In addition, certain interfaces can be completely shut down when not in use, which further decreases the overall power consumption of the platform. All of these power improvements allow for the platform to deliver top-tier performance while still staying within PoE power budgets.
Where there is enterprise wireless, there is a need for security, and Qualcomm addresses this with enterprise-grade security and encryption capabilities. IPQ806x delivers a trusted computing platform with ARM’s TrustZone, Secure Boot and other security features. It also has integrated cryptography engines that support high speed 256-bit AES encryption among many others. The QCA999X chipset supports both AES256 via GCMP and CCMP, and it has FIPS level 2 compliance support.
There are also a plethora of advanced enterprise Wi-Fi features that could potentially make Qualcomm’s platform more attractive. Those include Wi-Fi Passpoint technology, which allows for seamless roaming across Wi-Fi networks, which is great for larger enterprise deployments. Qualcomm Atheros chipsets also support spectral analysis of the network that can help identify interferences and improve performance on the fly. There is also support for Qualcomm’s IZat location, which allows for highly accurate indoor location and tracking with indoor accuracy of up to 1-2 meters. The platform’s channel agility also allows for the optimization of 802.11ac’s performance through the reduction of avoidance in crowded environments.
Enterprise 802.11ac May Favor Qualcomm’s IPQ
Multiple tier-1 enterprise AP vendors are already expected to be rolling out 802.11ac wave 2 products with MU-MIMO in the first half of 2015, which only further indicates the obvious need for these higher throughput and more efficient platforms. Qualcomm is one of the first companies to offer a full line of 11ac 2.0 solutions with a complete MU-MIMO ecosystem – delivering the advanced Wi-Fi features with new multitasking capabilities to make better use of 11ac bandwidth – which is needed for the next generation of networking, mobile, computing, CE and automotive products.
Qualcomm is really bringing their experience and expertise in consumer MU-MIMO and applying it to their enterprise line of products. This will obviously heat up the race between Qualcomm and Broadcom in the enterprise networking space as Qualcomm’s platform offers more functionality beyond simply having wireless connectivity. Having the powerful and programmable applications processors as a part of the platform enables Qualcomm’s OEM customers to deliver unique and differentiated solutions to their enterprise customers.
With this enterprise solutions announcement, Qualcomm is trying to create a value-added solution similar to the one in its mobile business where the company’s solutions are simply more capable and power efficient if paired together. The consumer space is far more fickle than the enterprise space when it comes to networking, so expect to see less cross pollination between Qualcomm’s and Broadcom’s chipsets. This will further serve Qualcomm in the enterprise space as they are likely to win more OEM design wins thanks to the full capability of their solution compared to Broadcom and its SoCs and wireless chipsets.