Qualcomm-Atheros’ recently announced portfolio of 802.11n/ac MU-MIMO “Wave 2” chips represents the next evolution of Wi-Fi to higher data rates and capacity, helping stimulate demand for Wi-Fi routers and Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices, according to Strategy Analytics (http://www.strategyanalytics.com)

The research group predicts that 802.11n/ac with MU-MIMO will help propel the Wi-Fi market to 3 billion systems shipped in 2018, at the same time pushing the market for external RF power amplifiers for Wi-Fi up by more than 50% from 2013 sales, to the benefit of Skyworks, RFMD, TriQuint and other suppliers.

Based on a detailed analysis of Wi-Fi adoption and radio component architectures in 24 types of Wi-Fi systems, the report includes historical shipment estimates and specifications for the latest Wi-Fi radio SoCs and power amplifiers.

“The Wi-Fi SoC suppliers have worked hard to incorporate LNAs, PAs and RF switches on chip, but moving to smaller CMOS nodes and higher throughputs and linearity at 5 GHz for 802.11ac has made integration of the RF functions more challenging,” says Christopher Taylor, director, Strategy Analytics. “As a consequence, many upcoming Wi-Fi devices will use external PAs over the next five years.”

“External CMOS PAs have started to compete with GaAs-based PAs in Wi-Fi just as in cellular, but GaAs will maintain its position for the foreseeable future, especially in higher-performance applications such as 802.11ac Wi-Fi infrastructure,” adds Eric Higham, director of the Strategy Analytics Advanced Semiconductor Applications service.