Quantenna hopes chips will improve home Wi-Fi

Quantenna Communications has unveiled new chips that it hopes will improve the performance of wireless home networking products.

Startup Quantenna Communications on Tuesday unveiled chips that it hopes Wi-Fi equipment vendors will use to improve the performance of wireless home networking products over the next year.

By integrating technologies such as mesh networking and beamforming in one match-box sized package, Quantenna wants to make wireless a reliable option for IP-based HDTV in any kind of home, and in the process take on industry stalwarts Broadcom and Atheros, according to CEO Behrooz Rezvani.

The company will start shipping samples of its QHS (Quantenna High Speed) chipset family this quarter, and the first products incorporating its hardware are expected to show up late in the second quarter or early in the third quarter next year. "We have a number of close contacts with both retail based vendors and operators. One of them is Pirelli," said Rezvani.

When it was founded in 2006, the company's goal was to develop a chipset that can deliver data at 100M bps (bits per second) anywhere in any kind of home, but getting there has been far from easy.

Wireless home networking presents different challenges, depending on where you are in the world. In Japan, thin walls in high density, high rise buildings result in interference, while thick European walls and large American homes lead to problems with signal loss and fading, according Rezvani.

To get around all that, Quantenna has combined some tricks of its own (it has filed 14 patents) with existing transmission standards, or in the case of 802.11n, a draft standard.

Quantenna first realized it had to support mesh networking, a technique that allows wireless devices around the home to relay signals to one another in order to reach those furthest from the home broadband connection.

"The signal drops as you get further away from the source point, that's just a mathematical fact. There is nothing you can do about that, and you get around that by using a mesh," said Rezvani.

Connecting multiple base stations in a mesh allows them to cover larger areas without diminished performance.

Rezvani sees Quantenna customers developing mesh nodes that looks like the AirPort Express Base Station from Apple, a compact unit that plugs directly into an electrical outlet in the wall.

The AirPort Express, in common with many Wi-Fi products from Apple and other manufacturers, can also relay signals to other network nodes using the industry standard WDS (Wireless Distribution System) -- but this is a bridging technology, not a routing one, and so cannot dynamically reroute traffic if a node is removed from the network or is temporarily unavailable due to interference.

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