802.11ac: The Next Generation of Wireless Technology

March 14, 2013

802.11ac WifiInternet technology has come a long way since the days of the ol' dial-up modem. The speed of wireless technology has improved significantly over the years, mainly in an effort to keep up with the demands of video and audio streaming through mobile devices and applications. The current Wi-Fi technology is called 802.11n, and while it is impressive what we can do through Wi-Fi, it is still less reliable and slower than a standard Ethernet connection. If we ever want to get to the point that a streamed HD movie could be as sharp and clear as a Blu-ray movie, the technology needs to make another giant leap forward.

Proponents of 802.11ac see this technology as that giant leap forward. Throughput is dramatically increased and provides theoretical speeds of 7 Gbps. That's really fast for a wireless connection. Without getting too ingrained in the details, let's discuss how this speed is achieved.

802.11ac is the first wireless technology to ditch the 2.4GHz frequency in favor of the 5GHz range. The 5GHz range has more spectrum than the 2.4GHz range does, offering eight times the number of channels. This allows the technology to provide much higher data rates—up to 1.3Gbps per radio.

The coolest feature (if you can consider Wi-Fi "cool") of 802.11ac however is known as beamforming. Beamforming focuses the Wi-Fi signal directly at the devices that are connected to it. Imagine you are standing in a dark room with a lit candle. The light from the candle radiates outward with no clear direction. Now stand in the same room with a flashlight, which gives you the ability to use the same amount of light but focus it directly on what you would like to see. This is exactly what beamforming does with your Wi-Fi signal, increasing both the speed and the reliability of all devices that are connected to it.

So if this is the next big thing in wireless technology, when will consumer adoption begin? It is expected that by 2015, upwards of one-billion devices will have 802.11ac. That is still quite a ways off but we should start to see access points pop up within the next six months and adoption will really start to pick up by early 2014.

The automation industry should be very excited about this advancement in Wi-Fi. Faster wireless connections, along with increased reliability, will signify the ability to do more with less. And less means less wire, less holes to cut into wall board to run that wire and less hours spent on the job running wire. Communication products will improve with this technology, and of course video streaming services should boom. Media servers such as the Roku and Apple TV are already increasing in popularity, and once the ability to stream movies in the same Blu-ray type quality without using any type of physical media arrives, you can say goodbye to those late night runs to Redbox (not to mention the late fees when you forget to return the movie). We're probably getting a little ahead of ourselves with 802.11ac, but it will certainly get us closer to that reality.