What is Beamforming? – Everything You Should Know
Everyone who plays competitive online multiplayer games or likes to stream tends to use ethernet cables to connect their streaming/gaming computer in order to reduce or remove latency. Latency can be an issue but a couple of lost packets can cost you the game or a dramatic part of a show or movie.
This is why people mostly use cable connections to the internet because WiFi was a bit unreliable in the past. Once WiFi started implementing beamforming, speed and more importantly, stability, both improved. But what is beamforming and how does it help wireless communication?
Beamforming – An Old and Reliable Technology
Back in the 1940s, during World War II, beamforming was used to increase sonar and radar range and stability, as well as that of radio waves. Beamforming is a selective process of directional interference that helps focus sensors in a certain direction (routers, antennas, sonars, radars).
Beamforming creates two types of interference, constructive and destructive.
Constructive interference focuses a transmitter and receiver on a certain angle and for certain frequencies, making them better at communicating for the selected angles and frequencies.
Destructive interference eliminates some angles as the correct ones for transmission and on the receiving end, some patterns and frequencies are deemed undesirable, so the receiver does not scan for them.
Beamforming has been used for decades in various fields like radio astronomy, seismology, acoustics, biomedicine and wireless communication (WiFi).
Beamforming and WiFi – How Beamforming Helps WiFi
Beamforming became a standard implementation on all routers which support 802.11n or WiFi 4, which was standardized in 2008. This support, however, was limited at the time and it came with WiFi 4 supporting MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) which is a requirement for beamforming.
It was not until WiFi 5 or 802.11ac that beamforming became a standard which was implemented by most router manufacturers. With WiFi 4 routers and devices, beamforming was expensive and some manufacturers charged more for proprietary implementations.
WiFi 5, on the other hand, enables beamforming on most devices, which is essential for public wireless communication. 5G, for example, benefits from beamforming because you can focus the signal in a certain area better, thus covering more ground and drowning out all the other signals.
Beamforming makes use of MU-MIMO or multi-user MIMO, which gives multiple users access to multiple antennas of the same router, making communication better in every way. This is a particularly efficient solution in WiFi 6 routers and devices which support the standard. But, even older devices can benefit from beamforming, such as those that support only WiFi 4, for example, through implicit beamforming.
Implicit and Explicit Beamforming Explained
Beamforming in wireless communication can work in two ways, implicit and explicit. Explicit beamforming is the more common one, where two devices that support WiFi 5 or above have an electronic handshake and thus exchange data on their locations and which frequencies and angles work the best for communicating.
This cannot work if one device supports explicit beamforming and the other does not, for example, a WiFi 4 and a WiFi 5 device. This is where implicit beamforming does the job. A router, usually, attempts to beamform with a device, but without the other device responding. The router would have to do all the calculations on its own, which leads to less precise beamforming, but it could improve speed and stability.
If this is to work, however, one would have to enable implicit beamforming on their router. Even the most affordable routers, particularly new ones, support beamforming, both explicit and implicit.
Is Beamforming Worth It? – Private Business and Home Use
Beamforming is enabled on most public WiFi routers, both explicit and implicit, to solidify communication and give users a better experience. But, beamforming is not always enabled in households or private companies which often end up using ethernet cables.
Is enabling beamforming worth it? It could be, and most often is, but one would have to do various tests in order to actually measure the potential increase in speed and stability. Since most modern routers are more efficient, enabling beamforming should not have any negative side effects.
Using a WiFi heat map tool to measure signal strength, in both a home and office space. This should give the user a better idea on how to approach the solution, whether from a new router/mesh solution or simply by enabling beamforming.
Does Beamforming Have Negative Effects?
Every technology comes at a price, whether literal or in this case, more energy. Beamforming, in its earliest days of WiFi implementation, used a lot of energy, but that was because of inefficient and less powerful processors and network adapters.
If you have an older device, it might not be worth it to enable beamforming unless the speed and stability actually do increase. Purchasing a newer router would solve this issue, particularly if energy consumption is a concern. Newer routers have more processing power, or rather, more efficient. Even commercially available routers are faster and put out less heat (use less energy, or rather, use it more efficiently).
Conclusion and Summary – Beamforming Can and Does Help
Beamforming is a process of spatial filtering used in wireless communication, where some angles around a transmitter have constructive interference (where communication is better) and other angles have destructive interference (where communication is intentionally worse).
In public WiFi applications, beamforming has been active since the implementation of WiFi 5 and has been (silently) helping everyone communicate. For domestic and small businesses, beamforming may be worth it, particularly if newer routers that use energy efficiently are used.
Implicit beamforming has to be enabled while explicit should be enabled if both the transmitter (router) and receiver (mobile phone, laptop, TV) support it. Devices that support WiFi 5 (802.11ac) and above should support explicit beamforming, the better of the two.
Devices that support WiFi 6 (802.11ax) will benefit greatly from beamforming, allowing them to reach maximum speed and stability.
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