In absence of any official announcements, WiFi chip manufacturer Quantenna Communications took the opportunity at Mobile World Congress to finally put substance behind the rumors that Comcast is indeed the “mystery MSO” influencing its books. The reason: “Comcast doesn’t like putting out press releases on chips, it’s really a media company after all,” said Quantenna’s Senior Director of Product Marketing James Chen, speaking to Faultline Online Reporter.
The rather convoluted issue here is Qualcomm has been in the Comcast account for some time, despite Comcast having its own in-house Plume WiFi technology for multiple APs in a mesh which use Qualcomm Atheros chips. Separately Quantenna has a mesh licensing deal in play with Turkey’s AirTies.
Clearing up the confusion, Chen explained that the new Xfinity DOCSIS 3.1 gateway, which Chen said launched in December 2017, is fitted with Quantenna’s QSR10G WiFi chip, with what it describes as Wave 3, 10G technology, while the Plume WiFi extenders (or “pods”) are powered by Qualcomm 2×2 WiFi chips. The previous Xfinity gateway was running Qualcomm 3×3 chips, so Quantenna has in fact supplanted the giant silicon vendor. Presumably it will still have software installed on it which allows the Plume Pods to co-operate with it. A few months back Qualcomm was boasting to Faultline that it had control of the Comcast WiFi account – well that’s not true anymore.
This also means that AirTies mesh software is not present at Comcast, leading Chen to point out there is nothing in the way of allegiance with AirTies, as Quantenna is in talks with several unnamed software players in the mesh space.
Chen suggests that the licensing deal was more like a nod to working together, to perhaps branch into other accounts in the future – an attitude which in fact encapsulates the general feeling of the WiFi players at MWC this year; eager to join forces against competing network technologies, but wary of sacrificing a share of deployment contracts. Our understanding is that if you want to sell into AT&T, you have to have the AirTies mesh working, which is Quantenna’s real motive.
Added value from Quantenna’s deployment at Comcast could come through the operator’s Xfinity licensing deals, currently being used by Rogers, Shaw, Videotron and Cox, with more rumored. However, this all depends on these operators upgrading to the new Xfinity gateway, although Chen is “pretty sure” this will be the case. Chen couldn’t talk Xfinity deployment figures but potentially having five operator roll outs from one deal will increase demand for Quantenna chips by some margin – on top of reaching a share of Comcast’s 15 million Xfinity internet customers. One thing is for certain, “everybody wants multi-AP,” said Chen.
Quantenna’s QSR10G WiFi chip is tailor made for APs and repeaters, suggesting there is scope to switch out Qualcomm in Plume pods too, a feat which would be a huge statement to the industry. Chen pointed out that the QSR10G offers dual-band dual-concurrent connectivity through 8×8 MIMO for 5GHz networks with a 4×4 MIMO on 2.4 GHz networks, but Comcast chose 2×2 for price and because that’s all the antennas that a smart phone has to connect to it.
Quantenna was at MWC pegging itself as the industry’s only remaining pure play WiFi chip company. Being at a mobile show, we learned about Quantenna working indirectly in the mobile market through partners Intel, Samsung, Qualcomm and Broadcom. Qualcomm is putting a lot of weight behind 8×8, particularly on the mobile side, according to Chen, marking a synergy with the mobile guys which is a new frontier for Quantenna in 2018.
Serving 60 different operators today, Quantenna has grown its customer base around 18% in the past year, and Chen noted that around 80% to 90% of the company’s 150 million chip shipments have been in the past 3 years.
Back in November, investor site The Motley Fool leaked Quantenna’s deal at Comcast but Chen would not address where The Motley Fool, a Quantenna shareholder, got its information, but we can only assume this was an attempt to bump up the stock price.
Comcast recently opened up its Xfinity ecosystem for third party integrations, setting the scene for other major operators and eventually smaller service providers to do the same – causing uncertainty in the WiFi market about how much of WiFi’s responsibilities will replaced by other networks within a truly smart home.