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Planning to buy a WiFi router but confused about what is MU-MIMO? Do not worry, in this knowledge base article, we will explain everything that you need to know about MU-MIMO technology.
What is MU-MIMO?
MU-MIMO stands for Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output. This technology breaks up the available bandwidth into multiple streams that are consumed by end-user devices. This technology was devised for seamless wireless connectivity for environments where multiple devices or endpoints are connecting to a WiFi network. MU-MIMO is a technology that is supported both on the Wireless router and the end-user devices.
Here’s a nice pictorial representation of this technology.
MU-MIMO vs SU-MIMO
MU-MIMO is an upgrade from SU-MIMO, also known as Single-user MIMO, commonly known as MIMO. To increase the antennas on a wireless router, both for transmitting and receiving, was the reason why the MIMO technology was created. This, by default, improved the wireless connection capacity on a WiFi router.
This technology is supported on the 802.11ac wireless standard. Older wireless standards like the 802.11b, g and n do not support MU-MIMO. For this reason, MU-MIMO is referred to as AC Wave 2 or Next-Gen AC from time to time. When this standard was first created, it was only supported by routers and access points. However, now most of the end-user devices offer support for Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output technology.
How does it Work?
The 802.11ac wireless standard works on a first-come, first-serve basis. This means that the user connected to the WiFi router first will be served the data first. This also means that if you have multiple devices that want to connect to the WiFi router, each one must wait for its turn. Now, this wait time might be in milliseconds, but it can cause network congestion. This congestion can also increase with more devices being introduced.
In order to overcome this congestion, where multiple users require access to a wireless network, this technology was created. This technology helps by allowing multiple users to access the WiFi router without any congestion.
Does It Make a Difference?
MU-MIMO technology breaks the available bandwidth into multiple chunks or streams that share the connection equally. An MU-MIMO router can come in four different variations based on the number of streams. 2×2, 3×3, 4×4 are four different variations available today.
To put this in a simple way, imagine you are standing in a queue at Starbucks. You only get your Latte after all the people in front of you have been served. With MU-MIMO, instead of one serving person, you get two, three or four serving persons. This reduces your wait time. Makes sense?
Drawbacks of MU-MIMO
Even though you have created different streams out of the available bandwidth, these streams occupy some ‘space’.
Meaning, if you put two end-user devices close to each other, they would need to share the same stream. For example, in office, if your co-worker seated next to you is streaming 4K videos on his laptop while you are trying to download a large presentation, you will have to wait. If you move to the other side of the office to get better bandwidth, assuming the wireless router and end-user device offers support for MU-MIMO and Beamforming technology.
Another drawback of the MU-MIMO technology is that it only works for downlink or downloads in simple terms. So, if you are viewing or downloading 4K video content, it will work great. But if you are trying to upload a thousand photos to the cloud, you will not find this technology very useful. The same applies to a two-way skype call or any video conferencing.
With the 802.11ax wireless standard coming soon, it will offer support for 8×8 streams. In addition to this, it will give uploaders a better experience (referred to as Bi-directional MU-MIMO) which is exciting news!
Do I need MU-MIMO on my Router?
If you have multiple MU-MIMO compatible devices that are used to access WiFi from a common area of the house, you should spend the extra money and get yourself an MU-MIMO enabled wireless router.
For example, let’s say you share a room with a hardcore gamer and you yourself are a 4K movie streamer, MU-MIMO will definitely save you from slow WiFi issues. That being said, it would only make sense if you have end-user devices that support MU-MIMO.
Of course, you also need to consider that bandwidth offered by your ISP. If you have a basic WiFi connection with average speeds, there is no point going for the MU-MIMO enabled router as there wouldn’t be enough bandwidth to share between your devices. Fortunately, most of the newer Apple iPhones and Android devices are MU-MIMO enabled.
Are these routers worth it?
Yes and No based on the reasons cited above.
This is an excellent technology, no doubts about that. We have a lot of good MU-MIMO enabled long-range routers available in the market today that you can consider. In the end, it depends on how you want to make the maximum use of the technology available at your disposal.
Have anything to add to this knowledge base article? Do let us know in the comments section below.
Hi, I’m Ian. I’m a Cisco Certified Network Professional and I’m in love with networking. On this blog, I write how-to guides and review Wireless Routers and other network devices. You can check out my website below.