We’ve all been there before: the endlessly buffering YouTube/Netflix/Amazon Prime Video stream, the dropped internet connections, the glacial update download speeds and the innumerable “connection not found” errors that plague all home Wi-Fi networks. It’s an absolute pain and, for the non-tech savvy amongst us, seemingly impossible to resolve. Thankfully solace may soon be had as Qualcomm’s Mesh Networking solution aims to take the headache out of connecting your home network.
“Inventing the [home] network that just works,” is how Rahul Patel, Qualcomm’s senior vice president and general manager of connectivity, positions Qualcomm’s mesh networking platform.
“60% of consumers feel they’re having issues with their home network,” he explains. “[They find that] either their connection is slow or stops, that there’s buffering on video traffic and sometimes completely dropped connections. Despite all of the innovation [in network connectivity], the consumer still remains unhappy.”
Mesh networking isn’t new. In fact, there’s Google Wi-Fi, and Netgear Orbi to name a few. And Qualcomm’s tech is in 100% of all current mesh Wi-Fi solutions on the market, what’s interesting is what comes next.
The next big advancement over the mesh networking devices already on the market is Qualcomm’s commitment to developing systems that can turn your home router and its various nodes into fully-fledged home hubs. With more and more smart devices creeping into people’s homes, not only is network congestion an issue that needs to be addressed, but the lack of any sort of standardisation creates problems around the home.
“There’s a lot of IoT devices coming into the home, all utilising various types of technology,” explains Patel. “Light bulbs and doorbells have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy, but thermostats run on Zigbee and some may use Z-Wave instead. You then have different stacks to navigate with the likes of Apple HomeKit, Google Thread or Samsung’s SmartThings.
“There [are] even various control inputs to consider with voice controls like Amazon’s Alexa or Ok Google. There’s a lot of different, complicated, ecosystems being built for the home and no unified way of doing things.”
It’s understandably a headache to manage all of these devices. As Patel points out, Philip’s Hue lightbulbs or Samsung’s bulbs both require their own bridges to communicate with your home network – the bulbs can’t just handle it directly. What happens when a bulb breaks and a cheaper, more modern, alternative is available from another supplier?
Currently that means yet another network bridge to plug into your home, but with Qualcomm’s new Mesh Networking technologies your BT Home Hub or Netgear router could handle everything for you. A manufacturer can even roll your favoured virtual assistant into Qualcomm’s platform meaning there’s no need for a separate Google Home or Amazon Echo.
As with any high-value product, you want to ensure what you’re buying is going to last you for years to come. With Qualcomm’s Mesh Networking solution, the American chip company is preparing to build a home network that’s fit for the home of the future. Not only does this new network have to work seamlessly, it also has to handle unprecedented amounts of data and juggle multiple input sources and then get everything talking to one another.
“The home network is evolving at a rapid pace,” explains Patel. “The amount of wireless devices coming into your home and the neighbourhood is increasing. The congestion of using multiple devices on the same network has created a big challenge [to manufacturers] to ensure great consumer experiences.”
To do this, Qualcomm is positioning its new 802.11ax-enabled IPQ8074 and QCA66290 chips as the perfect solution. Capable of carrying up to four times more capacity than the previous generation of chips, along with four times more throughput, Qualcomm hopes it can form the backbone of future home networks to enable the ease of data transfer around a home network.
“I can’t say which of our customers will launch [their 802.11ax-enabled devices] first, but I anticipate they’ll arrive later this year,” Patel explained when he was pressed for a general timeline for the technology.
On average, Qualcomm believes a single user churns through around 70GB of data a month via content streaming, social media checking, file uploading, etc. By 2020, it expects the average user to be consuming over twice as much as that, racking up an insane 165GB of data per month. Things get even more unwieldy when you look at the family unit, which Qualcomm estimates at using around 400GB of data per month already.
“My prediction is that, by 2020, an average family of four will consume around 1TB of data per month. That’s a lot of data!”
“This is where the challenge lies, you’re going to be using your home wireless network a lot more than you use it today, across a lot more devices. Somehow you’ve got to be able to source and manage all of that data.”
Still, even without the higher capacity of an 802.11ax-enabled network, Qualcomm’s mesh networking technology is already capable of solving that terrible Wi-Fi connectivity issue plaguing your home network. “If you look at enterprise-level [wireless] networks today, you’re connected in one place and, as you walk around, the connection is automatically and seamlessly handed off [to another wireless access point].” The same can also be said with mobile networks, you never actually hunt out another mobile phone mast to connect to, it just happens automatically. Qualcomm’s Mesh Networking technology is just trying to make your home network work as effortlessly too.