November 24, 2020 by George Wong

All the Engineering Elements that Go into the Design of a Carrier Class Wi-Fi System


Do North American consumers really need additional access points (APs) to provide adequate Wi-Fi coverage in their homes? If you read my previous blog post, you know the answer is “no.” Additional APs are only required in 5-10 percent of homes.  

So, what do we need? The right approach to the design of the Wi-Fi system itself. 

What does it mean to be “carrier class”?  

In nearly 10 years of working with Wi-Fi technology, Calix engineers have learned a thing or two about design. It turns out the system’s physical enclosure—the “box” containing all the antennas, silicon transistors, diodes, and other electronic components—is one of the most important factors that contribute to the strength, or weakness, of the Wi-Fi signal.  

Specifically, two design elements distinguish a carrier-class Wi-Fi system from a consumer-grade gateway.  

  1. Adequate antenna separation 
  2. Essential air flow 

Without adequate antenna separation, interference will affect Wi-Fi performance. 

If you want to design a carrier-class Wi-Fi system, you need to leave sufficient space for optimal antenna separation. Without adequate separation, the antennas will interfere with each other. 

Solutions that require multiple APs—like the ones that need to be plugged directly into electrical outlets—are very small. And a compact design does not allow for optimal antenna separation, as shown in the illustration below. 


Essential air flow and the problem with mechanical fans.  

In addition to optimal antenna separation, a Wi-Fi system’s enclosure needs to provide adequate thermal ventilation. A well-designed enclosure paves the way for pleasing aesthetics (something all subscribers care about) and provides essential air flow to a thermal pad.  

In most small Wi-Fi plug-in units, the only way to cool the electronics is with a mechanical fan. Unfortunately, these fans have inferior mean time between failure (MTBF) rates and decrease reliability. Mechanical fans also generate ambient noise, which annoy some consumers.  

Because the fan is nearly always on—whether the unit is being used or not—these units are not energy efficient. As technology has advanced to Wi-Fi 6, thermal requirements are increasing, further aggravating the wasteful power consumption of fans. 

Not all Wi-Fi systems are created equal. 

A single, powerful Wi-Fi system is considered superior for 90-95 percent of residential applications. In the rare cases where additional APs are required, it is important to select a system that features the same advantages of a carrier-class Wi-Fi system, including a well-designed enclosure that allows for adequate antenna separation and sufficient airflow, without the need for a mechanical fan. 

Calix provides a full range of Calix EDGE Systems so you can deploy the right system to all your subscribers, no matter what their needs and preferences. Check out our newly-launched BLAST u4 and Mesh BLAST u4m, which incorporate all the great design elements I mentioned—plus it comes in a compact, minimalist package consumers will be proud to display in their homes. 

Learn more by downloading our latest white paper, “The Science of Great Wi-Fi” or register for the upcoming webinar “The Science of Wi-Fi”, taking place December 9, 2020.