Understanding the New 802.11ac IEEE Standard

by Aeyne Schriber on August 26, 2012 in 802.11ac

If you have been staying up to date with wireless standards and technology then you are aware that 802.11n is being used more commonly along with the older standard of 802.11g.  For those who are not sure about wireless connectivity standards, 802.11 is a wireless standard set for by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) which is a community of skilled professionals that collaborate on technological advancements to ensure global consistency especially when it comes to communications.

802.11n is the most current standard being used and some of you probably have home networks that still run on 802.11g which is a slightly slower connection but still highly functional.  802.11ac is the newest wireless standard which aims for much faster connectivity to accommodate new applications such as streaming video and others which are bandwidth-intensive.

Many of the router manufacturers such as Netgear and others are already preparing equipment to handle the release of 802.11ac technology to which a date has not yet been announced.  In fact, 802.11ac is only preparing for release and the IEEE already has the 802.11ad standard under way.

The Faster Frequency of 802.11ac

The current standard of 802.11n is capable of running at speeds of more than 600 Mbps (megabits per second) where 802.11ac is designed to deliver frequencies in GB (gigabits) which is significantly faster than 802.11n.  802.11ac wireless communication can run at data speeds of just under 6 GHz with the up and coming 802.11ad standard also known as WiGig currently capable of speeds of more than 60 GHz.  As an added note, 802.11ad is a short range communication technology for supporting bandwidth-intensive applications.

Overview of 802.11ac

During 2011 alone, many products were released which support the higher data transfer speed of 802.11n.  This standard capable of speeds of more than 600 Mbps succeeded the 802.11g standard which delivered data transfer rates at only 54 Mbps.  During the course of this year the new routers and other equipment being released on the market is expected to be 802.11ac capable topping out at more than one gigabit per second with plans to eventually raise this speed to more than 8 gigabits per second.

Understand that the rates mentioned above are maximum speed potential and will vary according to the distance between your connection and the transfer station for the Internet Service Provider (ISP).  According to discussions at CES 2012 and Mobile World Congress 802.11ac potentially will begin by using high powered antennas which offer multiple input and output to allow for problem correction as the technology is released.  The end result of this setup will initially be data speeds of more than 850 Mbps as opposed to one gigabit per second. However this is expected to nearly double by 2013 and eventually reach speeds of more than 8 Gbps.

Beamforming

The frequency band for 802.11ac is 5GHz and will initially be delivered as a short range form of communications.  For this reason, the initial chipsets will be designed to handle what is called beamforming technology.  This is a standard implemented in the initial 802.11ac chips that allows for the sending and receiving of beamforming which helps to extend the signal and the bandwidth of 802.11ac communications.

Beamforming technology allows a router and the devices within range to identify each other’s approximate location to allow improved focus on the transmission of data.  Without this type of technology the signals can be sent out of order which causes them to cancel out which in turn reduces the amount of bandwidth in the connection.  For applications that require significant amounts of bandwidth and are designed for 802.11ac communications this can present a problem.

Where 802.11ac Currently Stands

If you have not been following the market reports, 802.11ac is already becoming known through providers such as Broadcom and Qualcomm Atheros.  These are primary manufacturers of 802.11ac chips which will further define the IEEE standard of 802.11ac.  This also known as 5G or fifth generation WiFi.  Additionally, Cisco has jumped on board with the introduction of an 802.11ac module which is an add-on four antenna 802.11n device which supports 802.11ac functionality.

Other technology product manufacturers have also acknowledged the up and coming 802.11ac technology.  Netgear recently introduced a DOCSIS 3.0 gateway (Data over Cable Interface Specification) which is integrated with 802.11ac wireless technology.  Marvell just unveiled an all-in-one chip for mobile device which is 802.11ac-enabled.

The PC company Asus just introduced an 802.11ac router capable of integrating both 802.11n with 802.11ac WiFi connectivity.  This development is significant due to the fact that 802.11n is capable of utilizing frequency bands of both 2.4GHz and 5GHz where devices which are designed exclusively for 802.11ac are only capable of running on 5GHz frequency band.

Most of the first generation of 802.11ac routers will be released as dual-connectivity devices that support 802.11n connectivity on the 2.4GHz frequency band and 802.11ac connections on the 5GHz band. Although the majority of these devices are set for release later this year other manufacturers such as Asus have announced earlier releases.

PCs and laptops with 802.11ac chipsets are due to be released by the close of 2012 with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs being released after the start of next year.  The certification program for other products which are 802.11ac capable will begin as early as January of next year.  The certification is enforced by the WiFi Alliance and ensures that all 802.11ac capable devices interact properly with wireless networking on a global scale.

So, if you have not heard of the IEEE 802.11ac standard or you have but have not stayed up to date with its progress, the time is now to follow this standard closely as it opens up an entirely avenue of opportunity in terms of connectivity, communication, and the use of next generation applications.  Also, if you are considering the purchase of new devices now is also the time to consider ones that will be able to handle this new type of connectivity so you are prepared for new applications and devices which are about to hit the market.

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