New Broadcom SoCs promise cheaper 802.11ac routers

Last week, we talked about two of the very first routers to feature 5G Wi-Fi connectivity (also known as 802.11ac). The devices promise transfer rates as high as 1.3Gbps sans cables, which sounds pretty exciting… but the entry price is less tantalizing: $199.99 for the flagship router, and $179.99 for its slower derivative.

5G Wi-Fi routers will go down in price over time, though, and Broadcom has announced something that ought to accelerate the trend: two new system-on-a-chip devices, the BCM4708x and StrataGX, that consolidate router functionality into single pieces of silicon, all with 5G support.

Broadcom aims the BCM4708x at home routers and the StrataGX at devices for small and medium businesses, but the chips seem to be architecturally identical. They both combine a high-performance processor, a Gigabit Ethernet switch, a Gigabit Ethernet PHY, a USB 3.0 controller, and traffic accelerators into a single die—and Broadcom says they’re the first in the industry to do so. Here’s a top-down view of the architecture:

(Not pictured: Broadcom’s BCM43XX 802.11n and 802.11ac chips, which connect to the BCM4708x and StrataGX via PCI Express 2.0.)

According to Broadcom, this SoC architecture manages, in one chip, what previous-gen offerings needed five chips to achieve. The result is a nice reduction in both cost and power consumption. Broadcom wasn’t willing to discuss exact pricing, but it did say the BCM4708x and StrataGX are about 40% more power efficient than older, multi-chip solutions.

As icing on the cake, the BCM4708x and StrataGX have a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU of the sort found in today’s smartphones. Broadcom claims the CPU is about five times quicker than what’s available in most routers these days. Also, thanks to the on-die traffic accelerators that handle the heavy lifting, the CPU is free to run software other than networking applications—think downloadable apps.

Broadcom is currently sampling the BCM4708x and StrataGX. It expects production begin in the second half of the year. The first routers to feature them will likely still be high-end offerings, but Broadcom expects prices to drop over time, and it made it clear that servicing the $99 price point is part of the plan. The firm predicts a “very high rate of adoption” for 802.11ac base chips next year. Come 2014 and 2015, it says, most Wi-Fi devices will be 5G-enabled.

Comments closed
    • JokerCPoC
    • 7 years ago

    I’m not sure if anyone has mentioned this, but does this new broadcom gear support IPv6 out of the box or is it still stuck in obsolete IPv4?

      • Deanjo
      • 7 years ago

      That’s solely dependent on the firmware implementation.

    • bcronce
    • 7 years ago

    I hope they take this same idea, except give it a quad core, and let you plug an SSD into it, and have 10Gb ports. I would love to have an IDS+Firewall+Router+TrafficShapper with 10Gb ports, and be compatible with Linux/BSD.

    • fantastic
    • 7 years ago

    What’s sad is that Linksys, D-link and pals won’t use the extra processing power for speed and security. They’ll tack on apps for your iPhone and your “lifestyle”. <puking in the corner>

    • Shambles
    • 7 years ago

    Only morons call this 5G. Please don’t be morons TR.

      • Zoomer
      • 7 years ago

      It is a typo; the corrected text should read 5 GHz Wi-Fi.

    • bcronce
    • 7 years ago

    Could a version of this be my PFSense box? Would be much cheaper than an x86 router and use much less power.

      • cheddarlump
      • 7 years ago

      That was my first hope / question, too. Hope they don’t leave this only to monowall since it’s ARM.

    • Bensam123
    • 7 years ago

    Neat chip… It has always blown my mind how routers of every shape and size all use extremely ancient processors. Even new age internet backbone routing equipment, like Cisco routers use extremely underpowered chips.

    I’m surprised there isn’t more support for a open router based on Nix that can simply be plopped on a x86 or ARM device. I have wanted one for ages. Like FreeNAS only for routers. Maybe FreeNAS could add a routing component to their software? That sorta sounds out of their scope though.

    I know there is Monowall and what not, but it’s pretty ghetto from what I’ve seen, especially compared to DDWRT. But DDWRT isn’t actually that feature rich when it comes to doing more advanced things, like bandwidth controls and it doesn’t run on x86 or arm.

    Just being able to throw out the whole concept of a standalone router out by buying a raspberry pi or an atom is amazing. I don’t know why it hasn’t been done. DDWRT could even sell a version that runs on x86 or arm and I would buy it.

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 7 years ago

      Routing doesn’t use much power, why would you want a beefier chip?

      If you’re interested, there are more distros than just m0n0wall, [url<]lhttp://www.fsckin.com/2007/11/14/7-different-linuxbsd-firewalls-reviewed/[/url<] edit: I just noticed that my link got censored because the URL uses a certain linux file system command, so here's a link to a google search for it: [url<]https://www.google.com/search?q=7-different-linuxbsd-firewalls-reviewed&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a[/url<]

        • bcronce
        • 7 years ago

        Routing doesn’t, but stateful firewalling and traffic shaping a 500Mb+ connection consume a decent amount. I only used 500Mb because fiber is getting more popular, so 400Mb+ throughput is becoming a reality for some.

          • Airmantharp
          • 7 years ago

          I’m with you here- and I hope that our communications overlords start allowing more of us access to high speed internet.

          I have to wonder, though, how much of that will be needed when we also finally move to IPv6?

        • Bensam123
        • 7 years ago

        Even putting aside extreme circumstance that bcronce mentioned, I’m sure you’ve never heard of routers that are slow, unresponsive, or outright crash when you turn things like QoS or even logging on. Let alone ones that slowly die over time.

        I don’t think I need to point out that slow doesn’t necessarily mean power efficient.

        Distros on the level of polish and ease of use of DDWRT or FreeNAS? I know most versions of Nix and BSD can do routing, that doesn’t mean they’re easy to use, setup, or robust at doing it though. Heck Windows can do routing too, that doesn’t mean it’s good at it.

          • bcronce
          • 7 years ago

          I didn’t vote you down.

          PFSense is a very popular FreeBSD routing “distro”. Has a web UI with wizards for almost everything you could think of, also logging and graphs/etc.

            • Bensam123
            • 7 years ago

            Interesting… That UI almost looks like it was ripped straight out of FreeNAS 7. It doesn’t look like it has advanced QoS features (like limiting the amount of bandwidth per connection) though. It doesn’t have ARM support either.

            • Deanjo
            • 7 years ago

            PFSense has all those QoS features as well. It doesn’t have ARM support because they leave that to monowall (PFSense is an x86 branch of monowall). Plus PFSense has a bunch of additional features such as hardware failover switching.

            • Bensam123
            • 7 years ago

            You can limit each connection to a certain speed? It has adaptive QoS measures, like dynamically allocating speed based on connection load?

            • Deanjo
            • 7 years ago

            Yes.

            • Bensam123
            • 7 years ago

            Looking into this more, monowall doesn’t support arm or raspberry pi devices.

            [url<]http://forum.m0n0.ch/index.php?topic=5580.0[/url<]

            • Deanjo
            • 7 years ago

            Btw, DD-WRT does sell an x86 version as well.

            [url<]http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/X86[/url<]

            • Bensam123
            • 7 years ago

            Interesting…

            It makes me wonder how many of these support addon devices, like adding in a wireless adapter will turn it into a wireless access point.

            My original post talked about ddwrt and freenas, but I’m thinking more along the lines of a piece of software that functions as a router, but runs on an existing OS rather then it being an OS itself. Such as Windows or X flavor of Nix.

          • UberGerbil
          • 7 years ago

          Many of the ones that “slowly die over time” do so because of overheating / inadequate cooling. A lower-power implementation would be a better fix to that problem than using x86. A modern ARM core would be both higher performance and throw off less heat than the antiquated MIPS-based SoCs many consumer routers currently use.

            • Bensam123
            • 7 years ago

            Yeah? There are a lot of issues with current routers, that’s the whole reason why I was looking for an alternative. If they were going to magically fix them so you wouldn’t need to buy a new one every X amount of years, then they would’ve done it already.

            If you take away their ability to control the hardware, then they can’t give you shoddy, underpowered, inefficient, or otherwise craptastic hardware.

            You could use whatever hardware you want to use that makes you happy.

      • Deanjo
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]I know there is Monowall and what not, but it's pretty ghetto from what I've seen, especially compared to DDWRT. But DDWRT isn't actually that feature rich when it comes to doing more advanced things, like bandwidth controls and it doesn't run on x86 or arm.[/quote<] [url<]http://www.pfsense.org/[/url<] although it doesn't do ARM.

    • ew
    • 7 years ago

    Can we please not call this “5G Wi-Fi”.

      • cynan
      • 7 years ago

      How about “Long term Wi-Fi evolution: The next generation”?

        • Duck
        • 7 years ago

        How about “802.11ac”?

          • cynan
          • 7 years ago

          It just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

          But seriously, just where do you get off invoking sanity in reply to these comments?

            • Duck
            • 7 years ago

            “1.3 gig wi-fi”? People will know what you mean by that.

            • Zoomer
            • 7 years ago

            11ac will do as a shorthand.

            • Decelerate
            • 7 years ago

            Joe Sixpack will think you’re talking about air conditioning units…

            “It’s all about the Bee-Tee-Oues man! WTH is that Gigahurts? How is that going to keep me cold?”

            • bcronce
            • 7 years ago

            x.11ac then

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 7 years ago

          I wish they’d drop the meaningless numbers than no consumer has any idea about and just attach the letter designation to “WiFi” so we’d have WiFi-g, WiFi-n, WiFi-ac, etc.

          • NeelyCam
          • 7 years ago

          Let’s call it “3D Wi-Fi”

            • willmore
            • 7 years ago

            No, they have to call one ‘HD’ first. Then ‘3D’. Then ‘4K’ or the alternate ‘quad-*’.

            • NeelyCam
            • 7 years ago

            TrueHD WiFi?

            • TheMonkeyKing
            • 7 years ago

            WiNot?

            • pedro
            • 7 years ago

            Stay connected longer with 3D Quad-core® WiFi™ 1300HD GTS®™. Four times the cores, four times the Net!

            • pedro
            • 7 years ago

            Stay connected longer with 3D Quad-core® WiFi™ 1300HD GTS®™. Four times the cores, four times the Net!

      • Meadows
      • 7 years ago

      Sure it’s not an official term yet, but how is this *not* 5G?

        • Bensam123
        • 7 years ago

        3g/4g all relates to wireless broadband for mobile devices. Not 802.11 wireless. Adding 5G to 802.11 is just going to confuse the fuck out of everyone.

          • willmore
          • 7 years ago

          You mean like calling 802.16 4G?

            • Bensam123
            • 7 years ago

            I suppose… in this case more like calling 802.16 WirelessN

      • Welch
      • 7 years ago

      I think his opposition to the naming convention of “5G” is identical to mine. As tech minded people we will know what it is and don’t really give a damn about the names for ourselves. It will always be 802.11ac to me, just as AMD’s current FX processors will always be Bulldozer to me.

      The real trouble comes in with non tech minded people who are going to confuse 3g and 4g “wireless” with this new wifi standard. Ive got some customers who think that if they put their phone on wifi that their phone calls and text messages will be “faster”…..

      • brute
      • 7 years ago

      I agree. I think we should stick with “Fourgie”. It much better represents the bulk of internet traffic.

        • brute
        • 7 years ago

        i didnt edit this post!

    • demani
    • 7 years ago

    So production will start in the second half of the year-I was prepared for a long wait, then remembered it might only be a few weeks (though I doubt that, given the very general timeframe given). But hopefully we will see these before the fall. I would assume that the antennas and the physical portion of the switch will be the most difficult part to fit in physically (and if you eschew most of the ethernet ports, a pack of cards router should be a piece of cake-might even be able to get one down to the size of a jumbo pack of gum (back when they were like 21 sticks). Very interesting indeed.

      • poisonrain
      • 7 years ago

      You’d think, but not so much. I did a round-up of the wireless AC (ducks) routers over at bestrouter.co.uk recently and they’re all comparatively large. The antennae are the main limit here. I’m speculating, but I think once you factor in MIMO to go with the beam-forming you’ll probably see very little difference in size to the top end wireless N routers today.

      PR

    • cynan
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]According to Broadcom, this SoC architecture manages, in one chip, what previous-gen offerings needed five chips to achieve. The result is a nice reduction in both cost and power consumption.[/quote<] I imagine this also means that routers will be able to adopt an even smaller form factor given the reduced heat output. The limiting factor should be having enough space to house all the necessary USB/ethernet ports and internal/external antennae. Having a wallet-seized or smaller router should only improve placement options. Come 2014, I will finally have a reason to upgrade my 3-year old wireless N router (if it doesn't die before then, that is). Bring it.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This