More Success for 802.11

Carl Weinschenk

The status and likely progress of two emerging members of the ever-broadening family of 802.11 standards from The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 802.11ac and 802.11ad, are becoming clear.

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The two standards do significantly different things, despite the similarities of their names. 802.11ac is a more direct extension of the lineage of 802.11 specs, which run from .11a, .11d, .11g to .11n. The idea behind 802.11ac is to go faster over roughly the distance of current Wi-Fi specs. 802.11ad, also called WiGig, is a far shorter range multi-gigabit per second technique that can be thought of as a replacement for cables in an office or home.

The differences in the technology and their mandates make it curious that the two are thought of together. This pairing was the case in research released this week by ABI Research. The firm found that 802.11ac will break out of the box quickly because it is a great way to perform the newly devised and important task of offloading data from cellular to Wi-Fi networks.


On the other hand, 802.11ad “will see a more modest and staggered growth” starting with larger and moving to smaller products,” the analysts found. The release details the mix of form factors, which will differ from each other and change over time.

Of course, Apple is a key linchpin of growth for anything related to the telecommunications, IT or consumer electronics industries. Considering the upbeat projections for the spec, it is not surprising to find that Apple is getting into the act. Mac Observer and other sites report this week that the company’s updates to the Mac, iPhone and iPad versions of the AirPort Utility are 802.11ac compatible.

Wi-Fi offload is largely invisible to the end user, while the driver of 802.11ad – eliminating cables and wires – is very obvious, and very welcome to most. That shouldn’t be underestimated as a non-technical difference between the two standards: The driver of one mainly is under the hood, while the other is front and center.

The high profile of 802.11ad is illustrated in this CIO.com article on the progress of Intel’s Thunderbolt interconnect for mobile devices. The heart of the story is an assessment of the progress being made by Thunderbird, which is a wired approach to doing essentially what WiGig does. The most intriguing element of the story is that instead of simply outlining the progress, it concludes that Intel knows that the technique may be equaled or superseded. It quotes Dadi Perlmutter, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Architecture Group:

"Do users want Thunderbolt or do they want WiGig? They might want both. We are working on both," Perlmutter said.

The future seems bright for both additions to the highly successful 802.11 family of specs. The main drivers of each – better managing available spectrum and eliminating wires – are winners, regardless of which gets hot first.



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