What is MU-MIMO?
MU-MIMO is a wireless network technology that allows a Wi-Fi router to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously. It improves overall network performance and efficiency, so it’s a great feature to have on crowded networks. MU-MIMO is perfect for small business owners, public spaces, or very large households with a single internet access point. Keep in mind that it won’t guarantee top internet speeds, only ensure that the connection doesn’t slow down to a crawl or crash altogether when multiple devices connect to the same router.
How does MU-MIMO work?
To understand MU-MIMO technology, it helps to first understand its predecessor SU-MIMO (single-user multiple input, multiple output). In single user MIMO, a router can communicate with only one device at a time. This happens very fast, and you are unlikely to even notice it if there are only a handful of devices connected to the router. However, if there are multiple devices, they all have to wait for their turn, so the last ones in line could suffer some serious lag.
How does MU-MIMO avoid that problem? It uses several technologies simultaneously:
- Multiple antennas. At the core of MIMO technology is the use of multiple antennas on both the transmitting device (the router) and the receiving device (a smartphone or laptop). They allow the devices to send or receive more than one data signal at the same time.
- Spatial streams. With those multiple antennas, MU-MIMO is able to use individual data channels called “spatial streams.” In ideal conditions, a device with two antennas can utilize two spatial streams, one with three antennas can use three spatial streams, and so on.
- Beamforming. Beamforming is a technique that allows the router to focus its signal toward a specific device rather than broadcasting it in all directions. By targeting the device it’s communicating with, the router provides a stronger and more reliable connection.
- Bandwidth division. Here’s where the “multi-user” part really comes into play. Let’s say you have a router that can handle four spatial streams, and you have four devices connected. With MU-MIMO, the router can send a dedicated spatial stream to each device, all at the same time.
- Backwards compatibility. For MU-MIMO to work, both the Wi-Fi router and the connected devices need to support it. However, if a device does not support MU-MIMO, the router can still communicate with it using SU-MIMO, which makes it a bit slower, but still fully usable.
MU-MIMO vs. SU-MIMO
To help you understand the difference between MU-MIMO technology and SU-MIMO, here’s a short comparison:
|Devices||Can communicate with multiple users simultaneously.||Only communicates with a single user at a time.|
|Performance||Improved network performance in multiple users environments.||Offers enhanced connection speeds and reliability.|
|Usage||More common in newer Wi-Fi standards like Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax).||Found in earlier Wi-Fi standards like Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) and devices before MU-MIMO became prevalent.|
|Streams||Can be used together with beamforming to direct signals toward specific devices.||Can utilize multiple spatial streams, but all are directed towards a single device.|
|Limitations||The number of devices it can communicate with simultaneously is limited by the number of antennas/spatial streams.||If there are a lot of devices connected to a single access point, it loses its speed advantage.|
|Compatibility||Requires both the router and connected devices to support MU-MIMO to use its benefits.||More devices support SU-MIMO, especially older ones.|
Benefits of MU-MIMO routers
MU-MIMO has its limitations, but it also offers many benefits, especially on crowded networks:
- Increases network capacity by sending and receiving data from multiple client devices simultaneously.
- Improves bandwidth speed in congested networks where different devices are competing for Wi-Fi — they are all able to communicate with the router at the same time.
- Enhances user experience by making streaming smoother, download faster, and response time shorter.
- Makes managing a network easier by ensuring that all connected devices in a household or a workplace communicate harmoniously.
- Improves online gaming and video calling by serving multiple devices and reducing lag.
- Works with most modern connected devices.
- Increases the internet speed on your devices that are not compatible with MU-MIMO because they don’t have to spend time waiting for their turn to communicate with the router.
Wi-Fi routers that support MU-MIMO
Here’s a list of brands you can check out if you want a MU-MIMO Wi-Fi router:
- ASUS. Recognized for their high performance and robust connectivity. Some ASUS Wi-Fi routers that support MU-MIMO: ASUS DSL-AC88U, ASUS GT-AC2900, ASUS GT-AC5300.
- D-Link. D-Link routers are praised for their user-friendly setup and reliable performance. Some D-Link Wi-Fi routers that support MU-MIMO: DIR-895L/R AC5300, DIR-882 AC2600, EXO AC3000 (DIR-3060).
- Google. Google’s Nest Wi-Fi router supports MU-MIMO and offers ease-of-use, integration with Google services, and a minimalist design.
- Linksys. A longstanding name in the router industry, Linksys is known for its dependable hardware, user-friendly software, and seamless Wi-Fi coverage. Some Linksys Wi-Fi routers that support MU-MIMO: Velop Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Router (MX10), EA9500 Max-Stream AC5400, WRT3200ACM.
- Netgear. Netgear’s Nighthawk series has been recognized for its superior range, speed, and user-friendly interfaces. Some Netgear Wi-Fi routers that support MU-MIMO: Nighthawk AX12 (RAX120), Nighthawk AX8 (RAX80), Nighthawk X10 (R9000), Orbi Wi-Fi 6 System (RBK852).
- TP-Link. TP-Link’s Archer series has gained popularity for home users seeking reliable Wi-Fi without breaking the bank. Some TP-Link Wi-Fi routers that support MU-MIMO: Archer AX6000, Archer AX11000, Archer C4000, Deco M9 Plus (Mesh Wi-Fi system).
- Ubiquiti. Ubiquiti’s UniFi series stands out for its advanced network management features and scalability. Some Ubiquiti Wi-Fi routers that support MU-MIMO: AmpliFi HD, UniFi Dream Machine.
While MU-MIMO is a valuable feature, you should also consider other factors when choosing a Wi-Fi router, like its range, software features, price, and security. An important detail to keep in mind — not all routers that support MU-MIMO support a VPN. If you want to install a VPN on your router and protect your entire household, check out our list of the best VPN routers and see if any of them offer MU-MIMO as well.