802.11ax Wi-Fi standard isn't ready, Qualcomm bakes chips anyway

Future Access points will tell clients when to sleep, then make a wake up call

In November 2017, the next version of Wi-Fi, 802.11ax, stalled in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers's (IEEE's) standards process, but vendors want to push ahead with at least some of its features, according to Qualcomm Wi-Fi product marketing lead Prakash Sangam.

Speaking to The Register after the company announced its pre-standard 802.11ax client chip at Mobile World Congress, Sangam said Qualcomm and other vendors getting on the pre-standard train will be able to ensure their devices are compatible with whatever spec eventually emerges from the IEEE's process.

Qualcomm's position is that key 802.11ax features are already in demand, he said.

The biggie is capacity, because of the proliferation of devices that's coming with the Internet of Things.

“We expect the standardisation to complete, and certifications to start mid to end of 2019,” he said, “But coming back to real life, the workload is increasing, users are hurting.”

He continued: “We came up with a list of features that the OEMs couldn't wait for. What features can we bring which are high-impact, but which can be improved upon in our solutions, and keeping an eye on the certification?”

He said the WCN3998 chipset will double the throughput over 802.11ac Wave 2, reduce power consumption, and improve security with its WPA3 implementation.

The “11ax-ready or 11ax-compatible” features start with MU-MIMO (multi-user, multi-input, multi-output) 8x8 sounding, which replaces the 4x4 sounding of 802.11ac.

Sounding refers to frames sent by the access point; the client device returns with a matrix of signal strength from each of the AP's antennas. In 802.11ac, the AP has four antennas, doubled to eight in 802.11ax.

With 8x8 sounding, the client's two antennas can respond to all of the possible spatial streams from the access point (Sangam said several access point vendors including some Qualcomm OEMs are planning 8x8 products).

Battery consumption is improved by letting the client's radio go to sleep when it's not in use. This feature, called TWT (target wakeup time), lets the access point set a sleep time on the client's radio, a point at which the radio wakes up and asks “do you have any messages for me?”

“Today the radio is always on, which reduces battery life even if you are not connected,” he explained. “Scheduling times where it wakes up [and checks], reduces power consumption up to 67 percent, and improves battery life”.

WPA3 support, Sangam said, is needed in the “post-Krack attack” world, something the company believes provides “real value to the OEMs”.

The chips will be sampling in Q2 of this year, Sangam told us, and should be in products late this year or early 2019. ®

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