Here Comes the Next 802.11 Standard

Carl Weinschenk

Still another flavor of Wi-Fi is entering the fray. As all options seem when they are new, 802.11ac is quite a jump from the last addition to the list, which was 802.11n.

PC Magazine reports that IMS Research says that more than 3 million 802.11ac units will ship during 2012. In four years - in 2016 - that number will reach 400 million, the firm said. The story explains what all the fuss is about:

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The benefits of 802.11ac over 802.11n include channel bandwidths of 80 MHz and 160 MHz versus 40 MHz in 802.11n; support for up to 8 spatial streams, versus 4 in 802.11n; and a data rate of about 1.3 Gbits/s, which is three times faster than 802.11n. The devices also use the "cleaner" 5-GHz frequency, which isn't obstructed from electrical interference from devices like microwaves.

Tony Smith at Reg Hardware provides a deep dive on the new technology. He says that 802.11ac uses the 5 MHz band, a more aggressive modulation scheme, beamforming techniques to increase signal range, wider subchannels and fuller use of "multi in multiple out" (MIMO) technology pioneered in 802.11n. 802.11ac, he writes, enables eight send and receive antennas. The result could be a shot of caffeine to Wi-Fi:

Put all these together and you're looking at raw data speeds of up to 3.47Gbps of one, eight-antenna access point and one, four-antenna client. More realistic scenarios with fewer antennae in the access point and in multiple clients call for speeds of between 433Mbps and 1.73Gbps.

Broadcom is getting into the act, which is good news for the new spec's proponents. Steven Vaughan-Nichols at ZDNet outlines announcements the chip maker made at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month. The four are named and described in a graphic in the story. The timeline is pretty clear:

According to Broadcom, home networking products containing IEEE 802.11ac adapters will be out in the third quarter of 2012. They will begin appearing in laptops and notebooks for the Christmas 2012 selling season. Mobile phones and tablets-both crucial Wi-Fi markets-are likely to ship with IEEE 802.11ac chips in 2013.

The Wall Street Journal added Marvell, Qualcomm and Quantenna as other likely chip suppliers. Trendnet also was among companies making announcements at CES.

There is only one way that speed is going in telecommunications in general and Wi-Fi in particular: up. 802.11ac, when it is officially promulgated as a standard and when products become available, may not be the last step - but quite a step it seems to be.

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