What Is MU-MIMO and Why Do You Need It?

An image of multiple devices and controllers.

The more devices that connect to your home WiFi, the slower it moves. That's because most routers can only communicate with one device at a time. With these single-user (SU-MIMO) routers, each device waits its turn to send and receive data from the Internet, so when a new device connects, the line—and the wait—becomes a little longer. Luckily, there’s a new technology standard in town that drastically reduces wait time, and its name is MU-MIMO.

MU-MIMO Benefits

Multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output technology—better known as MU-MIMO (a.k.a. Next-Gen AC or AC Wave 2)—allows a WiFi router to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously. This decreases the time each device has to wait for a signal and dramatically speeds up your network. Considering that the average household has upwards of eight devices battling for bandwidth simultaneously, MU-MIMO will increasingly improve your WiFi experience.

For home WiFi users, annoyances such as choppy video and continual buffering can really put a damper on the fun, but anyone who uses a WiFi network will benefit from the performance improvements of MU-MIMO. Here are some of the ways MU-MIMO kicks common WiFi problems to the curb:

  • Both MU-MIMO and non-MU-MIMO (SU-MIMO) devices operate faster because all devices on the network have less time to wait to get data from the WiFi router.
  • MU-MIMO technology increases the capacity and efficiency of your router, allowing it to handle more WiFi-intensive activities such as streaming and gaming.

Which WiFi Routers Support MU-MIMO?

To use MU-MIMO, you must first have a router that supports the technology. WiFi Routers operating on older standards such as Wireless-A, B, G, and N do not support MU-MIMO, and it's only a feature in some of the later Wireless-AC routers. Your safest bet is to look for a router that explicitly states it supports MU-MIMO, Next-Gen AC, or AC Wave 2.

What Devices Work With MU-MIMO Routers?

Any wireless device will work with a MU-MIMO router, but to get the most WiFi performance improvement, the device should also support MU-MIMO technology. Based on exhibits at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Computex, it's expected that manufacturers of computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets will increasingly support MU-MIMO in the coming years. According to DigitalTrends.com, the technology should be a standard feature in most devices by 2017.

The Future of MU-MIMO Networking

Though MU-MIMO is still an emerging technology, forward-thinking companies like Qualcomm and Linksys have anticipated its future demand. With the introduction of Qualcomm’s Wave 2 MU-MIMO WiFi® chip, this faster networking solution has taken its first step toward becoming the standard.

Both companies are promoting early adoption of MU-MIMO by offering the technology in a variety of products: routers, range extenders, and USB client adapters, with more to come as the technology is popularized. Given its superiority over existing network standards, it likely won’t be long before MU-MIMO becomes the norm.