What Is Beamforming and How Does it Work?

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Beamforming helps you get a better Wi-Fi connection. It does that by focusing a wireless signal on a particular receiving device instead of allowing the signal to flow haphazardly in all directions.

The resulting connection is quicker and more efficient than a standard connection. While beamforming principles were established in the 1940s, beamforming technologies have been introduced to Wi-Fi networking recently.

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To boost your Wi-Fi reception and reduce interference, modern wireless routers also promise ‘beamforming’ technology. But what is beamforming exactly, how does it work, and is it really useful?

What Is Beamforming and How Does it Work?
Image source: Network World

Beamforming Basics

Beamforming is all about directing a Wi-Fi signal in a particular direction, in basic terminology. Generally, when a Wi-Fi signal is transmitted by your router, it spreads the data in all directions. 

The router decides where your device (laptop, smartphone, tablet, or anything else) is located with beamforming and projects a stronger signal in that specified location. 

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Beamforming promises a quicker, stronger Wi-Fi signal with a longer range for all devices. The router aims to broadcast wireless data intended for a device in a way that works best for the device, rather than merely transmitting in all directions. 

So, that’s the result of beamforming – a stronger Wi-Fi signal and reception for your devices.

How Beamforming Works

A single antenna that broadcasts a wireless signal radiates that signal in all directions (unless any physical object blocks it). That’s the essence of the way electromagnetic waves work. 

But what if you needed the signal to be directed in a particular direction, to form a targeted electromagnetic energy beam? 

One strategy for doing this includes having multiple antennas in close proximity,  broadcasting the same signal. The overlapping waves can create interference that is constructive in some places (it makes the signal stronger).

It can also be disruptive in other locations (it makes the signal weaker or undetectable). This beamforming procedure will focus the signal where you want it to go if performed correctly.

What Is Beamforming and How Does it Work?
Image source: FlashRouters Blog

Beamforming Benefits and Limitations

By focusing a signal in a specific direction, beamforming allows you to deliver higher signal quality to your receiver – which in practice means faster information transfer and fewer errors — without needing to boost broadcast power. 

That is essentially the holy grail of wireless networking and the target of most wireless communication enhancement techniques.

The beamforming drawbacks primarily include the computing resources it needs; there are several cases in which the time and power resources needed by beamforming calculations end up negating their benefits. 

However, continuous advances in processor power and efficiency have made beamforming techniques sufficiently affordable to build into devices for consumer networking.

Implicit vs. Explicit Beamforming

If 802.11ac-compliant beamforming is supported by both the router and the endpoint, they will start their communication session with a little “handshake.” 

That lets both parties determine their respective positions and the channel they will communicate on. This increases the connection efficiency and is known as explicit beamforming

But plenty of network cards are still in use that only support 802.11n or even older Wi-Fi models. A beamforming router can still try to reach these devices, but it won’t be able to zero in as accurately without support from the endpoint. 

This is known as implicit beamforming since it works in principle with any Wi-Fi system, or sometimes as universal beamforming.

Conclusion

Beamforming, with other new features including tri-band Wi-Fi, is becoming a staple on high-end 802.11ac wireless routers. If you can get beamforming on your router, that’s definitely a good thing. 

Aside from the money you might have to pay to get a more costly router with this feature, there’s no real drawback of using beamforming.

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