Wi-Fi Goes Gigabit+ with 802.11ac, Broadcom First in Line
It seems like just yesterday that network equipment manufacturers were falling all over themselves to release Draft-N Wi-Fi devices so that they could squeeze in a whole product cycle before the IEEE finalized the 802.11n spec. The idea of a wireless network that could send data at 150Mps meant that it just might be possible to place that HTPC anywhere in the house without convincing the significant other that, yes, the 100m Ethernet cable tacked to the wall really is necessary. Of course, real world performance might suffer if one were to try to add a couple of wireless HTPCs to the network, or pop some microwave popcorn during the movie.
Well, the IEEE has heard our consternation and 802.11ac is now in draft form, and Broadcom has announced that they will be the first company to release a line of devices for the fledgling spec. The expectation is that the company can address any changes made to the spec before 802.11ac is finalized in late 2012/early 2013 through software updates. To be honest, although I knew that work on a new Wi-Fi standard was underway, I was not familiar with what was in store. The new standard supports up to 1.3Gps, and with wider channel bandwidth, improved beamforming, and 256QAM encoding, there is good reason to believe that this new 5GHz only Wi-Fi will have better real world performance than it predecessors. I expect a number of other companies will be showing Draft-802.11ac devices at CES. After all, the clock is now ticking if they are going to once again squeeze in a product cycle ahead of IEEE ratification.
We’ll enjoy the benefits of less interference as 802.11ac is a 5GHz-only standard as well as much higher performance thanks to wider channels and 256QAM encoding. Transmit power efficiency should also go up if we get wireless APs with sophisticated beam forming support. All of this will work together to deliver many times the performance we currently get over 802.11n without significant downsides.