Broadcom is banking on its Max WiFi chip platform to spearhead a broader push into the 5G and IoT markets. The chip giant does have a presence in both markets mostly through its Ethernet switch offerings, although not comparative to its position as one of the world’s largest silicon providers.
Nitin Madan, product manager at Broadcom, explained to SDxCentral that WiFi will be counted on to provide in-building coverage and capacity for 5G. This is despite the current move by telecom operators in targeting their initial 5G deployments toward in-building broadband replacements.
Madan explained that “while it’s technically possible” to use 5G as an in-building connection, “it’s economically difficult.” He cited past cellular generational deployments as eventually having to rely on WiFi to achieve the in-building coverage and capacity requirements.
“The 4G model started off with operators trying to provide in-building coverage, but they went with WiFi for their models,” Madan said. “At some point it comes down to the cost per bit.” He explained that it will not be economically feasible for operators to install enough cell sites to handle the amount of data generated by the market.
Madan said the company is not investing in 5G chipsets directly and is only a provider of radio frequency (RF) front end components such as filters. “We don’t have a SoC [system on a chip],” Madan said.
As for those operators that are hanging their initial 5G bets as an in-building broadband replacement, Madan said “they have to spin a story for their shareholders.”
Broadcom’s view is that WiFi, and specifically its Max WiFi chip platform, is the answer to powering the hardware needed to support market demand. That platform is built to the 802.11ax standard that supports operations between the 1 GHz and 7 GHz bands, uses multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) antenna technology, and speeds up to 14 Gb/s.
The WiFi Alliance, which handles the naming nomenclature for the technology, earlier this week rejiggered that scheme. The 802.11ax standard is now known as WiFi 6 and considered the current top rung for WiFi.
Madan is also bullish on WiFi 6 platforms making greater inroads into the IoT space. WiFi has had a limited presence in the market due to the power requirements of the technology.
Madan dissected the IoT space into three specific device segments. One is those is devices that are plugged into a wall and are not power constrained, which is an area that WiFi has found its footing.
The second is where devices are powered by small batteries and where low-powered wireless technologies like Bluetooth and Zigbee are more often found. Madan said this is an area that is unlikely to see much WiFi adoption.
The third is in between, where devices use larger batteries that can support some inclusion of WiFi. This is a market segment where Broadcom could see some growth.
This will be helped by new power features incorporated into the 802.11ax standard. This includes a power save mode that allows a device to be programmed to only check for data on a scheduled basis instead of constantly requesting that information. There is also a feature that compresses the link budget for a remote device communicating back to a host that can allow for higher speeds.
Consumer WiFi products with the new standard are set to launch later this year. Enterprise devices are not expected until next year due to more complexity in the software stack to support more stringent operational and security needs.
Broadcom did at one point play more aggressively in the IoT space. But it sold off that business to Cypress Semiconductor for $550 million in 2016.
Madan explained that the move was due to the fragmented nature of the IoT space. “We are used to dealing with a small number of larger players, and that market has a large number of small players,” he said.