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Quantenna gets to gigabit Wi-Fi standard first

Start-up close to sampling chips running pre-standard 802.11ac, which will support gigabit speeds for HD video


Published: 16 November, 2011

READ MORE: Standards | Wi-Fi

The next major iteration of the Wi-Fi standard will be 802.11ac, which will support 80MHz channels in the 5GHz band for super-high bandwidth applications like HD video. Although the specs are not finalized yet, the chip suppliers are engaged in their usual balancing act between getting to market first, and being fully standards compliant. This time, is it start-up Quantenna which has taken the plunge and is on the verge of sampling the industry's first gigabit Wi-Fi silicon, based on pre-standard 11ac.

The company, fresh from an investment from Telefonica, punches above its weight in the growing market for in-home video networks based on Wi-Fi. But it will be chased hard by the giants, like Qualcomm Atheros and Broadcom, as well as by the more exotic start-ups focusing on the other upcoming fast Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ad, which uses the 60GHz band to achieve multi-gigabit speeds. However, as Atheros said recently, most companies believe 11ac will be the mainstream option for years to come and the initial focus of commercial roll-out.

Quantenna's QAC2300 implements a draft version of 802.11ac, though it will soon submit its product to the Wi-Fi Alliance's certification process for it, set up in August. This will hold plugfests next year and begin certification one year from now.

The start-up needs to make a noise to get attention in a crowded market. It has raised $90m so far and is planning a Series F funding round, but does not expect to be profitable until it gains critical mass for its current 802.11n chips with tier one telcos and their suppliers. It says it already has 35 designs wins in 11n, with Netgear access points and Motorola set-top boxes being the most headline-worthy, along with many carrier trials, none of which yet involve high volumes.

Like many start-ups, it is constantly under pressure to stay ahead of the technology curve even while product volumes are low - it implemented the first 11n chip supporting 4x4 MIMO smart antenna arrays (also supported in the new 11ac silicon). But it knows uptake of 11ac may be slow - carriers are nervous about possible interference issues in the wide channels, so the first target will be retail consumer products. Qualcomm Atheros has decided to wait until the standard is finalized to deliver its own product. "That's what we have to do as a start-up, keep running as fast as we can to stay ahead of the pack," CEO Sam Heidari told EETimes.

The two-chip QAC2300 delivers up to 1.1Gbps at the application layer and 1.5Gbps at the PHY layer. Quantenna will provide two alpha customers with reference designs and expects to have the parts in production by May.

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