LAS VEGAS — Linksys is betting that MU-MIMO has a better 2016 than its debut last year, with the device maker expanding its Max-Stream lineup to include new routers, a range extender and adapter that takes advantage of the Wi-Fi optimizing technology.
MU-MIMO stands for Multi-User Multiple-Input, Multiple Output, and it's a way to better distribute bandwidth in wireless networks hosting everything from smartphones and laptops to streaming set-top boxes and connected devices. Instead of dividing bandwidth for devices from a common pool, a MU-MIMO-equipped router can direct separate streams for those devices at the same time for more efficient use of bandwidth.
MORE: What is MU-MIMO?
In order to take advantage of MU-MIMO, you not only need a router equipped with the technology, you also need devices that are optimized for MU-MIMO. And in 2015, at least, that wasn't the case. That meant that some of the first routers to support MU-MIMO — the EA8500 from Linksys, for example — simply didn't have enough connected devices to showcase MU-MIMO's performance benefits.
Linksys expects that to change in 2016. Justin Doucette, director of product management for consumer networking at Linksys, told me that 70 to 80 percent of client devices being shipped should support MU-MIMO by the end of 2016. And as those devices emerge, Linksys hopes to have routers capable of bolstering their performance.
First up will be the Linksys EA7500, a dual-band router with MU-MIMO expected to arrive in February with a $200 price tag. The 802.11ac router can push up to 1,900Mbps of data across its two bands, and it features 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports plus USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports.
That router targets homes where multiple people are playing games, streaming music, surfing the web and otherwise competing for space on the network. In homes with more serious bandwidth demands — say you're streaming 4K video alongside a host of other connected devices like printers, laptops and gaming consoles — Linksys is offering the $400 EA9500, a tri-band MU-MIMO router capable of providing up to 5.3Gbps of throughput. The router, which is slate for an April release, features nine Gigabit Ethernet ports and eight external antennas.
Linksys is also adding MU-MIMO capabilities to its range extenders in the form of the $150 RE7000, which should be available this spring. The dual-bad AC1900 range extender increases the reach of your Wi-Fi network and, when conntected to a MU-MIMO-capable router, can optimize bandwidth for devices on the network.
For laptop users who'd like to enjoy more efficient performance on their Wi-Fi network, Linksys is coming out with a MU-MIMO adapter this spring. The $60 dongle plugs into a USB 2.0 port to connect your laptop to a wireless AC network and a MU-MIMO router.