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24 September 2015

Actiontec’s MoCA-to-WiFi adapter provides up to 1 Gbps

By Charles Hall

In the real world there are two types of WiFi extenders – those that use WiFi to connect to a remote extender and those that use cables – powerline, coax or Ethernet – to connect to a remote extender. Wireline to WiFi is often better, faster, more reliable than WiFi-to- WiFi. Coax-to- WiFi approaches Ethernet-to-WiFi in performance.

Actiontec is launching a retail version of its MoCA-based coax-to-WiFi adapter priced at $149 for the remote unit – which provides user available WiFi bandwidth up to 1 Gbps and can support multiple extenders connected to the same router. The adapter uses Quantenna’s 4×4 11ac WiFi chips with beam-forming, which many consider the fastest available. MoCA 2.0 enables the WiFi extender to receive data at speeds of up to 1 Gbps.

Coax is widely acknowledged to be a much better carrier of data than powerline, because there is none of powerline’s noise, although with a complete lack of coax in Europe, powerline is likely to undertake this role there anyway.

Lesley Kirchman, director of corporate marketing at Actiontec, said there are two reasons the adapter performs so well, “Actiontec designs its own products from the ground up rather than using cookie cutter reference designs that chipmakers hand out to all equipment makers. And its

first and main objective is to provide the fastest WiFi possible.”

What are the differences between Actiontec’s MoCA-to- WiFi and other WiFi extenders? WiFi-to-WiFi extenders that appeared on the market several years ago use the same antennae to both receive data from the router and to transmit to WiFi devices. That can cut performance as does the fact that an already underperforming WiFi signal is being sent to the remote extender.

Powerline-to-WiFi extenders have to deal with the limitations of noisy electrical wires to get signals to the remote WiFi extender. Coax-based extenders have to contend with only one other signal in the coax wiring – the TV channels – and MoCA has a decade of experience co-existing with those.

“It’s a myth that the 11ac version of WiFi is sufficient for home with 10,000 square feet,” Kirchman said. “That could only be feasible in a home that’s shaped like a cylinder.”

The reason that WiFi extenders are needed is because the 11ac version of WiFi, not even in its most supercharged version, has not turned out to be the whole home wireless network that many had hoped it would. As a result, broadband service providers are being hammered by service calls from unhappy subscribers who think something is wrong with their broadband service, says Kirchman.

The 5.0 MHz WiFi band offers high speeds but only at short distances – when the receiving device, TV, smartphone or tablet – is near the router; the 2.4 MHz band covers greater distances, but at much slower speeds. Unless the router is in the same room as a 4K TV, a 4-K capable iPhone or any other device, which is rarely the case, they can underperform. Because of the location where the service provider installs the gateway, modem or router, the user typically ends up with the greatest speed in the wrong room, which is what the Actiontec MoCA 2.0-to-11ac extender is all about.

Kirchman said the new Actiontec adapters use MoCA 2.0, the very latest version, as the home’s WiFi backbone. Increasing the use of WiFi within the home and by the neighbors, makes it necessary to use a wireline network to support WiFi. She said the MoCA portion of the adapters is 1 Gbps and the WiFi portion is 1 Gbps at the adapter, and less as the distance to the WiFi device increases.

Actiontec said that the independent testing outfit Allion USA found that the adapter outperformed competitors on the 5GHz band by up to 2x the throughput at the farthest locations within the 3,000 square foot test house. As a result, Actiontec said it is “the preferred solution for extending wireless coverage to an upstairs or downstairs floor.”

The MoCA-to-WiFi adapters are expected to retail for about $149 each. The adapter that is connected to the router does not have WiFi, only MoCA and Ethernet, so it will sell for slightly less. The lower-cost Ethernet/MoCA adapter is not needed if the router has MoCA 2.0 built-in

As good as MoCA 2.0 and Quantenna’s 4×4 11ac WiFi chips are, Kirchman says most homes will need two to three adapters because of the limitations of WiFi. She said that for the best reliability, homes need 500 Mbps of WiFi at every point that has a WiFi device.

It is silly to let the home’s WiFi network limit performance at a time when most homes now have at least 100 Mbps of broadband, will soon have 300 Mbps in the cablecos’ footprint and 1 Gbps right around the corner, if not already available.

The proof? Kirchman said the same design and technology has been in tests for as much as six months by services providers and the performance has been very good. As a result many service providers have begun placing orders with plans to begin making them available to their subscribers. The other proof is that the adapters have been tested and proven by the same testing house that telcos use.

The only major difference between the retail model and the model that service providers are buying is that service providers can perform remote diagnostics and fixes as well as automatically update the adapter without the subscriber being bothered.

Kirchman has been involved in the development and testing of the MoCA-to-WiFi adapters for several years – tests in the labs, in homes including her 60-year old 2,000 square foot home with solid wood doors, which suffered from an underperforming WiFi network. She now has one router and two of the adapters that are providing 500 Mbps.

This first ran in Rider Research’s Online Reporter