By Yardena Arar | Tuesday, August 2, 2011 at 6:04 pm
I bet you didn’t know it, but today is 802.11 day. (I didn’t know it either until a PR person for Qualcomm Atheros–the Qualcomm division formed after Qualcomm acquired Wi-Fi chipmaker Atheros–e-mailed me.) Not because of any scientific milestone involved in creating the IEEE standard more commonly known as Wi-Fi, but because, well, it’s really 8.02.11. Get it?
The folks at Qualcomm Atheros seized upon the tech equivalent of a bad pun to update a group of journalists about what’s next for the popular connectivity technology–and although the excuse may have been lame, what they had to say was interesting. The last big upgrade, 802.11n, delivered speeds on the order of 100mbps Ethernet, so the standard now in the works is going for the next speed hurdle–1 gigabit.
Maybe they’ll call it gigabit Wi-Fi. But for now, the embryonic standard is simply another IEEE alphanumeric: 802.11ac. (They went through the entire alphabet for various other Wi-Fi related technologies–some of which no one ever cared about–so after 802.11z they started over again with two letters, and 802.11aa and 802.11ab are already taken.)
Qualcomm Atheros technology vice president Bill McFarland estimates it will be a good year and a half before we see actual 802.11ac products, but that would be downright speedy compared to the many years it took 802.11n to get from the IEEE drawing board into my living room. Anyway, here are some things I learned at the briefing:
How will 802.11ac stack up against WiGig, another high-bandwidth standard in development that operates on the 60ghz band? Basically, WiGig will be faster–but only at relatively short distances where walls and ceilings aren’t involved, making it more suitable for cable-replacement applications. McFarland says he believes the two will co-exist nicely.
Given the generally leisurely pace of new Wi-Fi technology adoption, I imagine it will be several years before 802.11ac becomes as familiar as 802.11n is now. But migration from 2.4ghz, which simply doesn’t have the bandwidth capacity required for the many wireless devices it is called on to support, is long overdue. Ask anyone who’s tried to stream media over a 2.4ghz Wi-Fi network in a big city. I just wish notebook and smartphone makers would be more proactive in supporting 5ghz Wi-Fi: even today, most don’t. Perhaps with gigabit Wi-Fi as a carrot, more people will make sure to demand 5ghz Wi-Fi, with or without support for legacy 2.4ghz gear.