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January 09, 2013

Qualcomm's StreamBoost Technology: Will Home Wi-Fi Perform Better with It?

Qualcomm (News - Alert) introduced StreamBoost on Friday, a Wi-Fi technology developed by its subsidiary, Qualcomm Atheros, which routers and gateways will use to optimize bandwidth allocation to connected devices.

The technology will be featured at the company's CES (News - Alert) 2013 exhibits and will be available to consumers this spring.

The growth of home Wi-Fi usage in recent years led to performance issues that inspired the development of StreamBoost. Qualcomm stated that an average home Wi-Fi network has seven devices connected to it, and expects that number to increase.

Video streaming sites and services like Hulu (News - Alert) and Netflix and online games add even more to the demand for bandwidth. But while these factors affect volume, they alone are not the only problem.

The inefficient use of bandwidth is another issue StreamBoost addresses. Devices often compete for bandwidth in a free-for-all. This results in video buffering or even locking up and games lagging behind. The ability to allocate a set amount of bandwidth to each device on the network may alleviate some of these problems, but it works best when the usage patterns match the settings.

It does not respond to changes in usage that significantly deviate from a set allocation.

Qualcomm claims that StreamBoost can correct these problems – that it has the ability to ‘learn’ the usage patterns of a given network and respond with the proper allocation of bandwidth at any given moment.

StreamBoost seems to address some very important issues, so will it really perform better? Will it become a dominant player in the Wi-Fi market? A couple obstacles may affect its ability to do either one.

One significant obstacle may come from the largest ISPs, the cable companies. Presently, the industry is considering changing to a usage-based fee structure and is already testing it in several markets. Instead of being able to get as much data in a given month as you want for a set amount, cable companies would cap your usage at a specific level and charge additional fees for going over.

If this happens, users may curb their bandwidth usage, making StreamBoost technology less compelling.

Another obstacle may be how well StreamBoost performs in environments where usage patterns are more erratic. It’s conceivable that a StreamBoost equipped device would have trouble ‘learning’ usage patterns and respond with the right allocation if there really is no pattern.

In other words, would the device perform well if it had to ‘guess?’

The whole concept of a device being able to learn seems to conflict with the ability to evaluate usage and allocate bandwidth on the fly. But that is not to say StreamBoost won’t be both a helpful and successful technology. Qualcomm’s conclusion that usage will continue to increase is well-founded and not really surprising.

Technology has grown from the days of 8088-based PCs to the devices we use today and bandwidth usage is no different. One of the best companies equipped to provide a solution to home bandwidth consumption and performance is Qualcomm. 

No one really knows whether or not SmartBoost will become a dominant force in the Wi-Fi market, and the upcoming demos at CES 2013 will only help those interested in making their buying decisions.

Once the technology becomes available to the public, the marketplace will be better equipped to render a verdict. 

Want to learn more about the impact and potential future of White Spaces? Then be sure to attend the Super Wi-Fi Summit, collocated with ITEXPO Miami 2013, Jan 29- Feb. 1 in Miami, Florida.  Stay in touch with everything happening at Super Wi-Fi Summit. Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Braden Becker

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