Qualcomm releases a second gen 802.11ac MU-MIMO line

Computex 2015: QCA9984 for homes, QCA9994 for offices

Qualcomm Snapdragon logoQualcomm is putting out two new 802.11ac chipsets today, the QCA9984 and the QCA9994. One is a home device, the other is an enterprise offering, and both add a bunch of new features.

Both of the two new radios are second generation MU-MIMO devices, a technology that SemiAccurate went into great detail about here. Until today the standard bearers for the Qualcomm MU-MIMO 802.11ac line was the QCA9980 and QCA9990 radios. These are 4×4 4-stream chips for home and enterprise uses respectively. If you add 2 to each product number, you end up with the three stream variant of these radios but we will stick to the biggest ones for now.

If you add 4 to the older radios you don’t get 2×2 2-stream chips as basic math may intone, you get the second generation 4×4 4-stream chips. Even though the new devices are pin-compatible with the old ones, they do offer a bunch of new and interesting features. In short they should be worth upgrading to and Qualcomm seems to want to make things as easy as possible on this front.

The biggest new feature is support for 160MHz signals but the two 80MHz channels that make it up don’t have to be contiguous anymore. This will be a boon for heavily used APs and noisy areas, the clearest channels can be picked out. Additionally given the way that MU-MIMO works, the channel choices best suited for each group now have much more flexibility. On the other side of the performance spectrum, the QCA99x4 radios also support 5 and 10MHz narrow channels for public safety and security uses.

Last we have a pretty simple sounding feature that is hard to implement, per-packet channel widths. This is technically just what it sounds like, Qualcomm can adjust the bandwidth use of each channel on a per-packet basis. If you have transient noise, the QCA99x4 radios can adjust around it on the fly for very short time periods. If you think about the processing power this takes to actually pull off without destroying throughput, it is actually a very impressive feat.

In case you are wondering what makes a part enterprise grade vs consumer, there are two real differences, hardware and firmware. On the hardware side the changes are mostly packaging related, industrial temperature ranges being the key difference, the silicon is otherwise the same as the QCA9984. On the firmware front you get things like remote manageability and a few security related modes that a stand alone consumer box could never use. In short the changes are not huge but important to the markets in question.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate