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Intel - 80 MHz Channel

Since Intel and Qualcomm didn't pair nicely in 160 MHz, I decided to see how they worked with a normal 80 MHz AC channel. Turns out, not so well. Here's a plot of four downlink runs with HT160 mode disabled on the R7800 (its default mode)...

Intel AC 9260 - 80 MHz B/W - Downlink

Intel AC 9260 - 80 MHz B/W - Downlink
Run1 AVG=575 Mbps Run2 AVG=522 Mbps Run3 AVG=540 Mbps Run4 AVG=557 Mbps

... and uplink.

Intel AC 9260 - 80 MHz B/W - Uplink

Intel AC 9260 - 80 MHz B/W - Uplink
Run1 AVG=59 Mbps Run2 AVG=139 Mbps Run3 AVG=369 Mbps Run4 AVG=165 Mbps

I suspect this poor uplink behavior is related to the difference in the way Intel and Qualcomm support 160 MHz bandwidth. More on this later.

Retest 4: 80 & 160 MHz Networks - Both Ch 36

So what about the effect of a neighboring network running 160 MHz channels on a normal AC network using 80 MHz running uplink? I retested that too. I made sure to check that the R7800's 160 MHz link rates were correct and the throughput was nice and smooth before running these tests.

Here's the retested downlink result. It shows both networks equally sharing bandwidth, i.e. neither is affecting the other.

80 MHz & 160 MHz networks  - Both Ch 36 - Uplink - RETEST

80 MHz & 160 MHz networks - Both Ch 36 - Downlink - RETEST
AP1 AVG= 389 Mbps AP2 AVG = 387 Mbps

Let's pull in the results from Test 2 of the original article for comparison, which shows the NETGEAR network (AP2) with a bit under 40% higher average throughput.

Two 80 MHz networks  - Both Ch 36 - Downlink

Two 80 MHz networks - Both Ch 36 - Downlink
AP1 AVG= 254 Mbps AP2 AVG = 348 Mbps

The same comparison for uplink shows about 30% higher throughput for the 160 MHz channel network

80 MHz & 160 MHz networks  - Both Ch 36 - Uplink - RETEST

80 MHz & 160 MHz networks - Both Ch 36 - Uplink - RETEST
AP1 AVG= 303 Mbps AP2 AVG = 399 Mbps

And now uplink for two 80 MHz channel networks.

Two 80 MHz networks  - Both Ch 36 - Uplink

Two 80 MHz networks - Both Ch 36 - Uplink
AP1 AVG= 244 Mbps AP2 AVG = 398 Mbps

My takeaway is there are no new insights here. A WLAN using 160 MHz channels is as likely to affect you as a regular ol' AC network using 80 MHz channels.

Retest 5: 80 & 160 MHz Networks - 80 MHz to Ch 40

Finally, I also rechecked what happens when the neighboring 80 MHz channel network moves its primary channel to 40. Here's downlink...

80 MHz & 160 MHz networks  - AP1 Ch 40 - Downlink - RETEST

80 MHz & 160 MHz networks - AP1 Ch 40 - Downlink - RETEST
AP1 AVG= 389 Mbps AP2 AVG = 387 Mbps

...and uplink.

80 MHz & 160 MHz networks  - AP1 Ch 40 - Uplink - RETEST

80 MHz & 160 MHz networks - AP1 Ch 40 - Uplink - RETEST
AP1 AVG= 389 Mbps AP2 AVG = 387 Mbps

These plots show more stable throughput than the previous tests, which I attribute more to making sure the R7800 was operating properly than any 80 / 160 MHz channel interactions.

Closing Thoughts

My bottom line after retesting is still the same: I don't see a properly functioning wireless network using 160 MHz channels having any more or less affect than a WLAN using 80 MHz wide channels. But that properly functioning is the potential gotcha.

The significantly different (and poorer) results using the Intel AC 9260 STA with the Qualcomm-based R7800 are a cause for concern. And they could forebode an upcoming battle in 11ax.

The 802.11-2016 standard specifies two ways to achieve a 160 MHz channel; eight contiguous channels (aka "160") or two groups of four contiguous channels (aka 80+80). I haven't seen the draft 11ax spec, but I assume it carries this forward.

Supporting 80+80 basically requires two radios because they need to be tuned to different channels spaced further apart than 160 MHz, while 160 support requires only one radio, but capable of extra wide bandwidth. I can see how an 80+80 STA can also connect to a "true", i.e. contiguous 160 MHz AP and link at 160 MHz channel rates.. But I can't figure out how a "true" 160 MHz STA can connect to an AP that supports only 80+80 and achieve a 160 MHz channel link.

In fact, the Intel AC 9260 connected at only at 867 Mbps when I set the R7800's primary channel to 149 with HT160 mode enabled, which resulted in an 80+80 channel assignment. (The NETGEAR advanced status screen showed Channels 36+40+44+48+149(p)+153+157+161.)

Even though the AC 9260 showed 1733 Mbps link rate connected to the NETGEAR when the NETGEAR's primary channel was set to 36 (resulting in a contiguous 160 MHz channel using DFS channels, i.e. 36(p)+40+44+48+52+56+60+64, its poor uplink behavior—in both 80 and 160 MHz channel widths—says something isn't up to par.

As I said, we'll see how this all shakes out when I get my hands on the first draft 11ax routers, which is likely to be the ASUS RT-AX88U that has popped up for pre-order at many etailers.

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