Beginner’s Guide to MU-MIMO

A new Wi-Fi standard is set to revolutionize routers and Internet access forever. But before we dive into exploring and explaining this new, exciting technology, let us first remember how a traditional router works.

Standard routers aren’t able to multitask when it comes to talking to several devices. As an example, it is very difficult for them to stream video to several smart Internet appliances at the same time. Sure, it may look like they are able to do it successfully, but the reality is that they achieve that by jumping back and forth between the devices. If your Internet connection is strong, the process should be smooth. However, if your Internet connection speed is weak, or if you need to move a lot of data around the network, user experience will surely suffer.

Still, few people have complained about this until now. But as content quality increases on the web, so does the amount of data that needs to be transferred around, especially when we are talking about 4K videos, fast action gameplay, and so on. The new MU-MIMO technology allows modern routers to communicate with several Internet connected devices at once, just like modern CPUs are able to run several complex operations at the same time.

SU-MIMO is an older technology that allows routers to send and receive data to and from several sources at the same time, using a different antenna, connected with an RP SMA extension cable for each device. Believe it or not, this technology has been introduced back in 2007, but it didn’t make its way into too many routers until recently. My guess is that the actual speed increase wasn’t that big, because the routers still had to do most of the work, dividing their attention between al the connected devices.

su-mimo

MU-MIMO evolved from SU-MIMO, making use of a separate data stream for each device. It’s as if each device would communicate with its personal router! MU-MIMO was introduced in 2013, and some of the router manufacturers have finally started to incorporate this technology into their products.

If you aren’t excited about MU-MIMO, well… you should! Why? First of all, it makes Wi-Fi much more efficient, allowing you to get higher Internet access speeds without actually upgrading your Internet connection.

Then, it works without needing an antenna for each device. If you have a laptop that’s used exclusively for work and needs full Internet speed, for example, you can tell the router to prevent it from sharing its Internet connection with other devices. After that, you can set all the other devices to share Internet access with the rest of the team. Finally, you will be able to connect many more devices to your Wi-Fi network without overloading it.

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The only serious drawback with MU-MIMO so far is the small number of connected devices that can make full use of its features: four. Sure, this will change within a few years, but it’s a pity that the technology was implemented this way. I can see why that has happened, tough, and it has to do with the large amounts of data that are being juggled back-and-forth on all the channels. Still, it’s a limitation I’d like to see being removed as quickly as possible.

Connect more than four devices and MU-MIMO will use SU-MIMO for the fifth device, etc. Well, it looks like we’ll have to live with this limitation for now, because the benefits are too important to be ignored, IMHO.


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