Wi-Fi Getting Faster, Must Get Smarter Too

    The world had just settled into 802.11n. Now, a couple of new standards – 802.11ac and 802.11ad – are around the bend.

    We are on the verge of seeing 802.11ac smartphones. PC World and other sites reported last week that the HTC One has been approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The phone offers 802.11ac connectivity. Wireless Goodness wrote that this is the first phone that has gotten such approval, though that statement couldn’t be verified elsewhere.

    This Computerworld piece suggests that 802.11ac will be included in Snapdragon chips that will be in phones during the second half of the year. The story also reports that Broadcom has said it will have its version of the chips in devices early this year. The article paraphrases Qualcomm Technologies’ executive vice president Murthy Renduchintala describing the advantages offered by 802.11ac:

    The new Wi-Fi standard in Snapdragon will increase peak data transfer rates, but at the same time enable tablets and smartphones to retain battery life similar to mobile devices with 802.11 b/g/n technology, Renduchintala said. The theoretical data transfer rates for 802.11ac is expected to be three to four times faster than that of 802.11n, which are in mobile devices, PCs and routers today.

    CE Pro offers a nice article on the technical dimensions of 802.11ac. The fact that the technology is becoming real and that much of the industry is meeting at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona makes this a good time to discuss 802.11ac in a context other than speed and reach.

    It’s clear that Wi-Fi is fast and getting faster. But 802.11 must do something akin to stopping to smell the roses. Kenneth Wong’s BloombergBusinessweek report from MWC focuses not on how fast Wi-Fi is, but on consumer frustration with using it outside the home. It is clear that Wi-Fi has great potential for in-premise use. It already is widely deployed, of course, and 802.11ad,  which is just a bit behind 802.11ac, probably will get more use as an in-home cable replacement than as a truly mobile platform.

    But the real future of Wi-Fi is on the streets, highways, byways, malls and other public places. The industry faces the challenge of cobbling all of these standards together at the chip, device and other levels in a way that makes one automatically give way to another. A person answering emails while sitting in a home would use one type of Wi-Fi. If that person begins streaming a movie, another type of Wi-Fi is necessary. Still another would be called for if he or she grabs their hat and heads out the door. The switches from one flavor of Wi-Fi to another must be invisible to the subscriber.

    This isn’t easy. But doing it, and enabling features such as the automatic sign-on approaches that Wong describes, is as important as adding more speed as Wi-Fi seeks to be recognized as a platform as stable and flexible as cellular.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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