December 9, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is a worldwide phenomenon that has affected our lives in a multitude of ways. Most notably are the periodic stay-at-home orders around the world that have shifted the way we regularly connect. According to research firm TeleGeography, in 2020, average international internet traffic increased 48%, while peak traffic rose 47%. Whether these numbers will return to pre-COVID values, or if this is the new normal, will remain to be seen. Tony Testa explores this new virtual landscape and offers some Wi-Fi specific insight into how manufacturers like Qorvo will develop solutions to help everyone adapt.
Everyone has experienced some sort of shift in their work or school environment since the pandemic first hit. With more people online, we have seen an influx of new use cases for workday home Wi-Fi, retail routers, service operator deployments and enterprise investments in Wi-Fi 6 upgrades to provide broader client capacity. As such, applications for Work from Home (WFH), online schooling, Zoom music lessons/extra-curricular activities, and medical appointments/conferencing have become more prevalent.
Early in the pandemic, it became apparent to many that their home networks were not up to par for the increase in usage. With entire families online at the same time, the current coverage and speed did not provide an optimal online experience. There was a rush to increase their individual subscriber speeds, as well as move to a home mesh (pod-per-room) network rather than their one router for the entire home. This type of event is being played out all over the globe.
Companies like Qorvo are responding with next-generation Wi-Fi 6/6E products. These new-generation technologies will help meet individuals' needs within home networks by providing products that further increase network speed and capacity. With the onset of 6E, the ability to take advantage of more bandwidth in the 6 GHz realm will help increase capacity. Wi-Fi 6/6E will also help provide the same experience to many more users on a single network. In addition, Wi-Fi 6 will have speeds of 1.2 Gbps per stream, where Wi-Fi 6E will meet theoretical speeds from 5.4 Gbps to 10 Gbps – a big improvement over both Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6.
For many years now, gateways have been dual-band (i.e., 2.4 GHz & 5 GHz), which started with the 802.11n, or Wi-Fi 4 standard. As with tri-band Wi-Fi, dual-band was created to increase user density, speed, and capacity. Adding the 5 GHz band helped offload the heavily saturated and interference prone 2.4 GHz band where cordless phones, Bluetooth® and home appliances like microwaves operate.
Gateway manufacturers have worked to increase the bandwidth, and in 2014 decided to add another 5 GHz band creating the tri-band. This additional bandwidth increased data capacity and coverage while accommodating many users on the home Wi-Fi network. This tri-band architecture – 2.4 GHz, 5.2 GHz, and 5.6 GHz – has doubled the bandwidth on the 5 GHz frequency band compared to the dual-band. This tri-band Wi-Fi provides three wireless bands to accommodate more devices on a network.
A simple way to look at tri-band is that if one of the bands has too much congestion, the other two bands can pick up some of that load to reduce the bottleneck, allowing data traffic and speeds to increase. The tri-band network gateway enables users to connect more devices to the internet using a higher spectrum more efficiently. So, if you are using a home mesh system architecture with many gateways to cover a large space, the second 5 GHz band (i.e., 5.6 GHz) acts as a dedicated communication line between the two routers to speed up the entire system by as much as 180% over dual-band configurations. Whether your home has many connected devices, or you just want to make certain your streaming and gaming is lag-free, tri-band can provide the needed speeds and capacity.
As mentioned, tri-band has many benefits. The 5 GHz band provides more than six times the bandwidth than the 2.4 GHz band, enabling today's video streaming, chatting, and gaming. But it’s not without some challenges such as coexistence between closely aligned licensed cellular standards in these bands.
It is particularly complex for wireless manufacturers to ensure band and standard coexistence is maintained in and around their products. To guarantee coexistence is provided, filter technology is used. To meet the need for mesh tri-band, a filter technology with a high rejection, low insertion loss, and high-power handling must be used. Bulk acoustic wave (BAW) technology is well suited for this application and meets these requirements. At Qorvo, we created 5 GHz filters for the 2.4 GHz, 5.2 GHz and 5.6 GHz bands. These filters, with their high rejection rates, provide the needed coexistence in each of these spectrum areas. We provide these filters in a convenient, fully functioning front-end module and as a separate discrete product for manufacturers that require more design flexibility. The additional benefit of using BAW filter technology is its ability to dissipate heat efficiently, helping system designers meet the required critical regulatory specifications more easily.
In the last few years, there has been a noticeable difference in gateway and node design. They have become sleeker and more stylish to blend in with the home environment. The antennas are no longer outside of the box. Instead, they are embedded inside, like in our mobile smartphones. As gateways and nodes are getting smaller, moving to a tri-band architecture, and adding more standards inside like Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy, Thread, and Zigbee, it creates more RF chains and integration that causes an increase in system heat.
When these new trends began, so did the chase to reduce system heat, as components inside the gateway and node became cramped and the heatsink was no longer a fix-all heat extractor. There are also gateway applications with higher temperatures at the extremes of +95⁰C for outside environments. As a result, manufacturers needed other viable solutions beyond the heatsink. Many system manufacturers look to their semiconductor device suppliers, asking them to reduce their product heat. As mentioned, BAW technology is well stabilized under wide temperature usage, whether used in discrete form or inside a fully functioning RF Front-End (RFFE) module. Additionally, RFFE module suppliers like Qorvo have worked hard the last few years to reduce heat and lower overall power consumption to meet new performance standards, green energy requirements, and ultimately enable the small size of today's home routers and gateways.
Wi-Fi Tech & Trends
Read other blogs in this series to get practical design advice from Wi-Fi expert Tony Testa.
There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced all of our lives. It has increased the need for wireless companies like Qorvo to respond with new innovative technologies that provide better, more reliable and always-on connectivity. As with the medical organizations who are pushing out solutions in high-gear, wireless companies are responding in the same lightning-speed way to keep people connected and safe with new innovative technologies – like Wi-Fi 6 & 6E, 5G, Ultra-wideband and more.
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