CES 2014: Five Reasons Why 5G WiFi is the Foundation for the Connected Home

LAS VEGAS — It’s clear that the connected home — a big, futuristic idea that’s a consistent trend-driver at the annual International Consumer Electronics Show — will require a wide range of wireless networking technologies.

From where Broadcom sits, deep in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, it’s 5G WiFi (based on the speedy 802.11ac standard) that will become the centerpiece of that vision.

Dino Bekis, vice president of marketing mobile wireless connectivity, in the Mobile & Wireless Group at Broadcom, chatted with me about it in the company’s booth and explained why consumers and service providers really do need the extra heft that comes with this next-gen standard to make the connected home a reality.

Here are the top five reasons why 5G WiFi is the foundation for the connected home:

Sharing Is Caring

The home is being overtaken by devices, partly because individual consumers now tend to own multiple devices *mdash; smartphones, tablets, laptops — that all connect to the network. Beyond that, there’s a new lineup of devices that are trying to tap into the WiFi network, such as gaming consoles, as well as wireless set-top boxes like Roku and Dish’s Wireless Hopper. That’s bound to place some strain on the network.

Now, imagine what happens when that same network is asked to stream a video clip between two of the connected devices, from a smartphone to the WiFi-connected TV using a screen-casting technology such as Miracast. This is already happening and networks are already straining. 5G WiFi is fast and robust enough to handle that sort of network traffic without system hiccups.

Mo’ Content, Mo’ Problems

It’s true that you can’t really download faster than the speed at which your Internet service provider allows, even if you have faster WiFi. But it’s important to remember, Bekis said, that not every piece of content flying through your home network is tied to the Internet, at least not in real time.

Consider that while some people in the house may be streaming from the Web, others may be streaming from one device to another. “That eats up a lot of bandwidth,” Bekis said.

Rate vs. Range

Wireless routers are often hidden upstairs in a closet or in the far reaches of a home office, Bekis noted, where they’re unable to get anything close to reaching their potential speeds throughout the entire house.

5G WiFi has faster baseline performance that helps improve real-world performance at any given distance. Plus, techniques such as explicit beamforming help steer signals to a receiver, which can help with dead spots. (802.11n allowed beamforming, but didn’t require manufacturers to certify interoperability, so it was not useful in most cases.)  5G WiFi can also vary channel bandwidths to boost performance.

A Better Battery Story for Cellular Carriers

5G WiFi’s extra speed also helps boost battery life for mobile devices that surf between cellular and Wi-Fi connections.

Because data transmissions occur at a faster rate, Bekis said, the power-hungry transmitter sends the same amount of data in a shorter period of time. Estimates run up to a six times improvement in battery life with three times the throughput of 802.11n.

That enables carriers to offload traffic from expensive, scarce cellular networks to Wi-Fi networks to avoid dropped calls at peak periods, without eating the device’s battery. Bekis said some legacy 802.11n implementations (though not those from Broadcom) used more than twice the battery power of LTE connections.

Accelerated Adoption

5G WiFi is just starting to hit a tipping point, as more products, including the hordes of routers, gateways, tablets and smartphones on display at Broadcom’s booth this week, begin to incorporate it.

In this scenario, 5G WiFi — fully interoperable with older 802.11 a/g/n networks, and any new ones that come along — becomes the new foundation. That flexibility is one of the reasons 802.11ac is being deployed so quickly, compared to previous generations.

“The end customer doesn’t know or care about what’s under the covers,” Bekis said. It’s up to Broadcom to offer up “the best available technology from the available arsenal of choices,” he said.

For a look at 5G WiFi in Broadcom’s booth at CES, watch this video interview:

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About the Author

Special Correspondent Fredric Paul is an award-winning writer, editor and content strategist who has spent his career covering the intersection of technology, business, and culture. His writing has appeared… More