In the evolution of wireless technology, there’s a new Wi-Fi standard gracing the airwaves and it holds a lot of promise in delivering faster speeds to the delight of wireless consumers everywhere. Following 802.11n, the next-generation of Wi-Fi is 802.11ac, popularly referred to as “11AC” or sometimes just “AC” and it’s exciting for a variety of reasons that we’ll discuss below.
AC Benefits, At a Glance
Speed: as the fifth generation in wireless standards, 802.11ac is predicted to be up to 3x faster than 802.11n, achieving up to 1.3Gbps with promises of more to come – with speeds as high as 6.93Gbps potentially attainable in the future.
Synergy: new AC devices will play nice with existing 802.11n devices – and AC will often boost ‘legacy’ or existing device performance (even if speeds achieved are not as fast as on AC-enabled devices).
Range: 802.11ac routers operate exclusively in the 5GHz band so they won’t have the same problem with range as earlier standards. AC uses channels with more bandwidth (each channel is 80MHz wide, versus the 20MHz-wide channels that 802.11n routers use), plus AC uses a higher-density signal modulation scheme (256 QAM versus 64 QAM used by 802.11n routers).
How Does AC Work?
This new 5G Wi-Fi standard only works in the less crowded 5GHz frequency band – and there is no 2.4GHz version. The good news, however, is most new dual band routers, such as D-Link’s entire 11AC product line, and access points on the 802.11ac standard will support 802.11n in the 2.4GHz band so legacy wireless devices will work just as they did before.
Looking more closely at the new standard, 802.11ac essentially ratchets up the technological innovations of 802.11n with major advancements in encoding, multi-channel usage, and Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) operation.
- Multi-channel use doubles throughput since it allows a device to utilize two channels simultaneously (this was a first beginning with 802.11n).
- MIMO lets a wireless transmitter use multiple physically-separated antennas to send multiple streams in the same frequency band, using spatial division to separate them. Available spatial streams are determined by the number of antennas and different encoding methods support distinct data rates.
- 802.11n only supports up-to four spatial streams whereas the new 802.11ac supports double that, up-to eight spatial streams. 802.11n is limited to 40MHz channels while 802.11ac allows 80MHz and 160MHz channels.
- Depending on access point or router capabilities, multiple variations occur with AC: 433 (low), 650 (low-mid), 867 (mid) and 1,300Mbps (high) devices are available now.
- 867Mbps devices use two spatial streams and 80MHz channels; 1.3Gbps devices use three.
- Looming on the horizon: devices supporting four spatial streams (1,733Mbps) and possibly 160MHz channels for a speed of 3,466Mbps (or 3.47Gbps). Technically, the specification goes even further — at eight spatial streams, speeds could reach 6.93Gbps.
N vs. AC
Whereas 801.11n took wireless performance to a new level in 2009, (optimized at 5GHz but capable of working in either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands), the new 802.11ac standard is designed to operate solely in the 5GHz range and is already producing speeds double that of the previous standard.
Since the two Wi-Fi standards function on separate frequencies, as the migration from 802.11n to 802.11ac begins, new wireless products, including access points, routers, and USB adapters, will likely have speeds labeled for both older and current protocols. For example, a new 802.11ac router (DIR-860L) may be categorized as “AC1200” and will have speed ratings stated as: “300/867Mbps,” to indicate the product will support 300Mbps when interacting with devices on 802.11n in the 2.4GHz band and maximum speeds of 867Mbps when supporting devices optimized on 802.11ac in the 5GHz band.
Interesting 11AC Facts
802.11ac operates on the 5GHz band – the same band as some older cordless telephones.
Previous wireless standards struggled to coexist with their earlier counterparts – for example when wireless N was introduced and implemented in a wireless G environment, the entire network was brought down to the G level. Wireless AC not only remains steadfast in a Wireless N (or lower) environment but also boosts the older device’s performance. Talk about an upgrade!
Ramping Up Production
The first wave of AC products offers a range of speed choices: 433Mbps, 650Mbps, 867Mbps or 1300Mbps (or 1.3Gbps). Tech experts evaluating 802.11ac 1.3Gbps products operating at relatively close range have noted them to be extremely impressive – working as well as wired Gigabit Ethernet.
Take Advantage of AC Now?
The new 802.11ac standard is going through the certification process with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE – the official wireless standards committee), and is expected to be ratified in early 2014. Wireless device manufacturers at the forefront of the new market are rapidly producing AC-ready products, such as Apple’s MacBook Air and Samsung’s Galaxy S4, so early adopters can rejoice: it’s possible to upgrade to 802.11ac now.
D-Link has a series of AC wireless devices (all backward compatible with existing Wi-Fi devices) created to match our customer’s particular needs and requirements.
Smaller homes or apartments will get the most wireless mileage from a D-Link Wireless AC750 Dual Band Cloud Router (DIR-810L);a perfect solution that delivers fast speeds for HD video streaming, file transfers and lag-free video chatting on Skype or FaceTime – all the time – with less wireless interference for maximum performance.
Homes with multiple connected devices like Androids, iPhones, tablets, and notebooks can implement the D-Link Wireless AC1000 Dual Band Cloud Router (DIR-820L) to effortlessly gain faster speeds and immediately reap the benefits of increased home coverage and uninterrupted HD media streaming.
When you want wireless access on multiple connected devices per individual, simply upgrade your network with a D-Link Wireless AC1200 Dual Band Gigabit Cloud Router (DIR-850L or DIR-860L) to do more in less time: make simultaneous file-sharing, smooth gaming, and high-quality HD video streaming quick and easy for everyone.
Consumers desiring a first-rate home-networking experience can get it with the installation of D-Link’s top of the line Wireless AC1750 Dual Band Gigabit Cloud Router (DIR-868L) for flawless HD streaming, uninterrupted Skype and FaceTime, and unparalleled wireless speeds.
Now and Next…
Literally still a ‘draft spec,’ 802.11ac is not likely to change much during the ratification process, but in the event nuances occur, early adopters may do well to keep their AC device selections within a trusted brand. The next generation of wireless, (possibly 802.11ad), will take aim at the insatiable need for speed touting a 7X increase over 802.11ac and may be one of two competing technologies. Stay tuned for updates in this ever-changing space!