At last week’s Broadband World Forum, Qualcomm formally introduced its mesh architecture for WiFi, as operators increasingly need to deploy a home WiFi system which will ensure reliable transmission throughout the home.
AirTies of Turkey and Celeno of Israel have both developed WiFi mesh software to help get HD and 4K video around the house. Since then chip suppliers Quantenna and Broadcom have licensed AirTies’ proprietary mesh architecture.
Now Qualcomm has come out with its own mesh product, and we are not far from the first mesh wars, which are highly likely to involve patent suits. Qualcomm may well have key patents, given that its cellular operation has been working with different forms of mesh in the past.
Qualcomm said it was working with a range of manufacturers to accelerate WiFi mesh network deployments, including Acelink, Alpha Networks, Askey, Hitron, Sercomm, Technicolor and WNC. These will produce systems based on the Qualcomm Mesh Networking Platform by 2018.
“Qualcomm Technologies has been a driving force behind the mesh networking movement, and is now raising the bar by addressing the unique challenges of broadband carriers and their customers, including distributing video over mesh networks and enabling virtually seamless content across several screens, in addition to the televisions in the home,” said Irvind Ghai, VP of product management.
Comcast is planning to introduce designs from another Qualcomm partner, Plume Design, in its home networks over the coming months. The two have built reference platforms for mesh networking in the home, and Comcast plans to base its multi-AP Xfinity service around Plume. Its cloud-based control and management solution is fed data by Qualcomm’s Mesh Networking platform.
“A reliable, managed, and optimized whole-home WiFi network is the only solution to the ‘last-meter problem’ faced by the carriers,” said Fahri Diner, CEO of Plume. “Our relationship with Qualcomm Technologies is accelerating the deployment of carrier grade home WiFi at carrier scale.”
Qualcomm has not really explained its mesh in detail yet, but it has clearly taken sides in the current philosophical debate about whether or not a mesh is the most efficient way to carry traffic around a home, or whether an extender can do a better job. Either way, the ability to carry messages from each access point in a multi-AP home, back to the node which decides which channels to use, is the key ingredient. The new AX protocol is hard-wiring some management principles into a multi-AP network, for instance communicating the pre-booking of resources for one or other activity, and conveying it across the network.
As home networks continue to become crowded with multiple devices streaming video and other high-bandwidth activities throughout the house, carriers will be challenged to manage network capacity, reduce latency, reduce buffering and cut out dropped packets.
Qualcomm says these problems are worse in a mesh network and that it had to build a special video-over-mesh feature, which now delivers less than 40ms of latency and near-lossless video delivery. This can be used across Qualcomm’s Wave 2 801.11ac portfolio, which includes the QCA998x and IPQ806x for broadband gateways, the QCA6174 and QCA998x for set-top boxes and extenders, and the IPQ401x for mesh network systems.