So last week, the world of wireless got a little more serious with the launch of the first certified 802.11ac products. .11ac (for short) is the new flavour of the long-evolving Wi-Fi alphabet soup – this one is two to three times faster. Most of us today will be using either .11g or .11n at home, or on our smartphones and tablet devices.
Where .11g delivers a (theoretical maximum) 54Mbps (Megabits per second) data rate, and .11n typically said to offer up to 300Mbps, the new .11ac is taunting us with (at least in theory) speeds approaching gigabit (that means 1Gbps). .11ac technology has the potential to go much faster in the future as well. Ask me how that works and I’ll try to explain clever blends of RF modulation schemes, 5GHz frequencies and antenna configurations…
But what is this all for? Where are we going to see the technology used and how can we benefit from the new faster Wi-Fi? Therein lies the problem.
For the immediate future, I believe that .11ac is likely to be limited to home users who want to buy the latest and fastest routers. Or small office users who need to replace one or two wireless routers will inevitably opt to buy a more future-proof technology.
But where I fear we won’t see .11ac anytime soon: In the established networks of millions of public or commercial wireless hotspots worldwide; in the mobile networks around the world already deploying Wi-Fi hotspots as part of their data offload strategies; and almost certainly not for a very long time inside the badged ODM routers we get from the likes of BT or Virgin Media. And that’s a shame in my opinion, and why I will probably always ditch the router my broadband provider gives me.
Mobile devices, laptops and other ‘high churn’ consumer electronics may be quick to take up .11ac and to use the new higher speed wireless as a differentiator on their packaging, and I’ll be queuing up to use this at home as soon as I can. But I won’t be expecting to see it in public places for a few years. In my personal recollection of events, it took a long time for public Wi-Fi hotspots to move beyond using 11Mbps 802.11b, a technology that dominated the early mass-market roll outs in coffee shops and public places.
photo credit: °Florian