NCTA — The Internet & Television Association

Are Better Wi-Fi Routers the Trick to 4k Streaming?

Are Better Wi-Fi Routers the Trick to 4k Streaming?

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They sit dusty, untouched, crammed behind bookcases, slid under couches, forgotten in hallway closets. They don’t have screens, they don’t make sounds, and they don’t have apps. They’re Wi-Fi routers and they’re the unsung heroes, the silent workhorses, of broadband and they deserve a little attention – a little love.

Without a good Wi-Fi router that’s not only properly rated for the amount of data it’s being asked to handle, but capable of working smoothly with multiple devices, you could be missing out on the full potential of your speedy Internet connection. Considering how quickly speeds have gone up in the last few years and how many more connected devices the average home is utilizing, it’s entirely possible that your router is out of date and holding you back.

A number of companies at CES are showing off their latest routers designed to give optimal access to a maximum number of devices. All of them are touting the router buzzword of the season MU MIMO, or Multi-User Multi-Input Multi-Output. We’ll take a pat on the back for our prescience as we published a blog on MU MIMO technology back in July of 2013. I encourage you to read it, but in short it’s technology that allows multiple devices to connect to a singe router with minimal loss of bandwidth amongst devices. So if you’re home is getting 100 Mbps, multiple devices can connect and get the full benefit of that 100 Mbps – no need to split it up and share.

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Qualcomm is showing off new routers that it reports deliver up to 1.7 Gbps via an 802.11ac MU MIMO connection. Imagine being able to share that kind of speed amongst dozens of devices. They also showed off new 802.11ad technology that as of now is optimized for single user MIMO, but was displayed sending nearly 3 Gbps. Keep in mind that this demonstration was done on the incredibly interference-laden CES show floor. A Qualcomm engineer reports that within the next few years 802.11ay technology will be available, allowing for the development of MU MIMO routers capable of 3+ Gbps. This might be overkill for the average family home, but imagine if this technology were used in public Wi-Fi hotspots.

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Linksys also showed off 802.11ac MU MIMO routers. Their most powerful router was on display delivering 20 4k video streams simultaneously over the same connection. They claim it will work with up to 22 streams, though couldn’t tell me how fast the broadband connection was that made the display possible. Still, if we assume the standard estimate that true 60fps 4k content requires 32 Mbps and that compressed 4k requires 10-12 Mbps, you can imagine how a top-quality MU MIMO router can allow the average American home broadband speed (according to Akamai, a delivered 57.3 Peak Mbps) to deliver more than enough 4k streams to satisfy every device in the house.

More data is carried over Wi-Fi than any other medium. They may not be the most exciting devices in the home, but Wi-Fi routers are doing the tough job of delivering broadband to all of our devices. Better routers are helping to create better online experience by allowing users to take full advantage of ever-increasing broadband speeds. At CES, these routers are getting more of the credit they deserve.