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What is 16×16 MU-MIMO? An Intro to WiFi 7’s Key Tech

By jesse.chen

With the next generation of WiFi just over the horizon, there’s a lot to discuss about the new features WiFi 7 brings to the table. One such feature is 16×16 MU-MIMO, a big step up from the current WiFi 6E standard.

Before we can actually talk about 16×16 MU-MIMO, you should know what the acronym means.

First, MIMO, or Multiple-Input Multiple-Output, refers to the use of multiple transmitting and receiving antennas so that signals are sent and received continuously between a transmitter and receivers to improve overall communication quality.

This technology makes full use of space resourcing to double the system channel capacity without increasing the spectrum resources and antenna transmission power. It’s considered the core technology of next-generation mobile communication.

For end devices (think: your laptop or smartphone), those that support WiFi have at least one antenna, and each antenna generally receives (input) and transmits (output). Devices with multiple antennas are the ones that can support MIMO.

Generally, low-end entry-level mobile phones and IoT devices have only one transceiver antenna. Mainstream flagship mobile phones will have two antennas, and flagship notebooks such as Macbook Pro will have three antennas. The number of antennas also determines the maximum network throughput for the device.

On the router side, if a router has 2 antennas to support 5GHz WiFi, then we generally say that it supports 2×2 MIMO, and so on, 3 antennas are 3×3 MIMO, and 4 antennas are 4×4 MIMO...and WiFi 7 routers can support 16×16 MIMO.

The greater the number of MIMO, the greater the network throughput. We can think of MIMO as a highway where n in n×n MIMO refers to the number of lanes. The throughput of the lanes is n times the capacity of a single lane. For example, a single lane (antenna) rate of WiFi 6 at 80 MHz is about 600 Mbps. 2×2 would then be about 1200 Mbps, 3×3 would be 1800 Mbps, and so on.

Now that you know what MIMO is, let's talk about MU-MIMO.

When multiple devices use a router’s network, they are not connected at the same time but instead wait in line. MU-MIMO changes this one-to-one transmission/reception to one-to-multiple, allowing multiple devices to access the network without waiting.

MU-MIMO (Multi-User Multiple-Input Multiple-Output) provides services for multiple devices simultaneously by using a reasonable allocation of antennas and sending out waveform phase superposition through the antenna.

MU-MIMO technology can significantly increase throughput and reduce network congestion and delay in the case of a network filled with devices. This helps give each device high priority, allowing the whole network to maintain a fast and stable performance even when older, low-speed devices connect.

WiFi 7 advances everything with 16×16 MU-MIMO. Now, the maximum number of data lanes is 16, doubling the previous generation’s spatial streams. In other words, it will allow communication with up to 16 devices on every stream — a big reason why throughput rates of WiFi 7 are substantial compared to WiFi 6. Better yet, 16×16 MU-MIMO will also greatly improve the data throughput of individual devices while also expanding WiFi coverage.

All in all, the latest rendition of MU-MIMO is set to make a significant impact on home networks. But that’s only one of the new features of WiFi 7. Keep your eyes open for the rest of our intros, so you can stay up to date with the latest innovations.


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