Gigabit WiFi: 802.11ac

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 | Business | by

In recent news (past few weeks) 802.11ac has been popping up quite frequently.

802.11ac is the emerging standard for gigabit wifi.  The standard is still a draft, but just like 802.11n, there are already products that support this “draft” standard.  802.11ac  will support up to 6.9Gbps (and in lesser forms down to 433Mbps).  It is sometimes being marketed as “5G” as the public has become used to the term.

Higher bit rates for 802.11ac tend to use multiple (up to 8) antennas to get the full bandwidth.

Broadcom announced a full family of 802.11ac chipsets at CES.

There are rumors that Apple is planning to support 802.11ac in products this year.  Early indications say it may be available on “larger” products such as laptops, desktops, Apple TV and Airport (of course).  From what I’ve read about the standard it takes advantage of multiple antennas, which means that both power consumption and footprint will be larger than 802.11n devices.  I’d expect not to see 802.11ac support this year but maybe next year at the earliest (if ever) in mobile devices.

When we hear these great data numbers, we have to consider the rest of the systems they are going into.  Broadcom’s chipset depends on the interface, so the higher bandwidth devices (1.3Gbps) requires the use of a PCIe 2.0 interface.  Yup, USB is too slow for max throughput 802.11ac.  USB2 can go up to just about a Gigabit per second, which we see in Broadcom’s family (USB 2.0 chipsets cap out around 866Mbps).

Will be exciting to see numbers on this technology, and see how it changes media ubiquity in the home.

At some point soon we’re going to have WiFi that transfers faster than hard disk transfer speeds did just a year or 2 ago.  The change means we may no longer be “caching” information at media end points (such as the streaming only Apple TV), as all media can be consumed “on demand”.



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