MU-MIMO: What you need to know about this new WiFi technology

Mar 9, 2020Blog

With WiFi 6 (802.11ax) everywhere in WiFi news, we all know that we can expect faster WiFi speed, better WiFi performance and more reliable internet connections. But there’s another benefit that has been featured a lot as well: MU-MIMO.

“MU-MIMO” has been thrown around a lot as one of the benefits we can look forward to once WiFi 6 finally releases. So, what is MU-MIMO and why should you care? Great question. Here’s what you need to know:

What is MU-MIMO?

MU-MIMO stands for “multi-user, multiple input, multiple output.” It is a technology for wireless communication. The “multi-user“ part of the technology is what makes this different than before and why it’s a highlighted WiFi 6 benefit.

Actually, MU-MIMO is not totally brand new. It was first introduced with 802.11ac standard’s (WiFi 5) Wave 2 products and you might know it as “Next-Gen AC” or AC Wave 2.”

Since then, MU-MIMO technology has seen a lot of improvements, and therefore it’s gained more hype as we anticipate the release of WiFi 6.

Why does MU-MIMO matter?

The latest MU-MIMO technology part of the equation for faster WiFi speed. You’ve probably read about how WiFi 6 promises better WiFi performance and reduced congestion? Thanks to MU-MIMO technology, that will be true.

For the past decade, we experienced SU-MIMO (single-user mode). The biggest downside with WiFi 5 and its SU-MIMO technology is that only one device could send and receive data at one time. MU-MIMO fixes that problem.

The purpose of MU-MIMO is to support environments where a lot of users are trying to access a wireless network at once, like stadiums, public transportation terminals, airports, etc.

MU-MIMO does not directly affect data rates. What it does do, though, is help multiple devices like WiFi routers coordinate when they communicate with one another better and faster than before.

Overall, because MU-MIMO allows multiple devices to transmit at once, it makes more efficient use of channels.

What you must know about MU-MIMO

Now that we’ve introduced (or, re-introduced) MU-MIMO. Here are a few more things that you need to know about it:

MU-MIMO capabilities depend on WiFi standard

MU-MIMO only works with wireless routers or access points to simultaneously send and receive data to multiple users. It does not have the same support with end-devices like smartphones, laptops or tablets.

MU-MIMO uses Beamforming

Beamforming is a network signal processing technique used to efficiently send network transmission and reception in specific directions. MU-MIMO uses beamforming to help strengthen its network strength.

OFDMA vs MU-MIMO

Another acronym to know. OFDMA stands for Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access. OFDMA technology also acts as part of 802.11x standard (WiFi 6). OFDMA divides a network channel into smaller segments so that multiple devices can better communicate. However, OFDMA and MU-MIMO are not the same.

MU-MIMO works on multiple frequencies

Before, MU-MIMO was only supported in the 5GHz band. Now, with the latest improvements, it works with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz.

MU-MIMO limitations

MU-MIMO has some drawbacks. To fully utilize MU-MIMO, your router and your device using a network need to be fully compatible with MU-MIMO. At this time, this isn’t possible for everyone. While most flagship devices (like smartphones) are being equipped with the latest WiFi 6 (802.11ax) standard, medium- to lower-budget devices are not. Until the market fully switches over to WiFi 6 compatibility for all devices, MU-MIMO won’t be entirely attainable for all users.

In time, everything will get there, though. So, MU-MIMO is definitely something to look forward to. The entire purpose of MU-MIMO is to attain better, reliable, strong and efficient wireless (WiFi) connectivity.

Stay in-the-know on the impacts of WiFi 6 standard and other developing technologies by following Actiontec’s featured Industry Articles or the Actiontec blog.

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