It’s no mystery that people today are clamoring for faster, more reliable bandwidth on mobile devices. No lag times. No delays. No glitchy downloads. Not only do they want speed, they want more of it on the go – streaming music, gaming and high-definition TV shows, movies and videos.
In fact, a recent Forrester study demonstrated that tablets are causing 1 in 5 owners to watch more video, and a Cisco study found that in 2011, average smartphone usage nearly tripled. There are an unprecedented number of devices placing huge demands on wireless networks. Where is all this bandwidth going to come from? With the new 802.11ac wireless networking standard that’s currently under development, we just might have our answer.
This new standard, which is expected to achieve Wi-Fi certification as an IEEE amendment to 802.11n in the first quarter of 2013, expands coverage performance and offers video-grade throughput across increasingly crowded and busy networks. Representing the next evolution of wireless networking, 802.11ac is the first Wi-Fi standard to exceed Gigabit performance, offering key benefits for the home as well as large and small businesses.
Among the 802.11ac standard’s benefits is its operation in the 5 GHz band, as opposed to 2.4 GHz (where 802.11n devices currently reside). Because the 2.4 GHz band serves general household items (ranging from battery-powered toys to microwave ovens and more), as well as Wi-Fi and short-range Bluetooth devices, it has become increasingly crowded and susceptible to electromagnetic interference.
In addition to offering less interference, the 5 GHz-based 802.11ac standard delivers wider bandwidth with capacity to achieve higher data rates, to better support the increasing throughput demands of advanced multimedia. The new standard adds 80 MHz and 160 MHz channels (whereas 802.11n only supports 20 MHz and 40 MHz). For example, Qualcomm Atheros’ initial 802.11ac solutions coming later this year will use the 80 MHz bandwidth and three spatial streams to achieve a maximum PHY data rate of 1.3 Gbps – nearly twice the maximum data rate of 600 Mbps that 802.11n offers via three spatial streams. Support of 160 MHz (formed by combining two adjacent or two non-adjacent 80 MHz channels), which would potentially achieve more than a 2.3 Gbps data rate three spatial streams, will also be an option.
Current 802.11n networks have relied on single-user Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) and beamforming, which the industry has not widely adopted, in order to achieve the maximum 600 Mbps peak data rates. 802.11n allows a maximum of four MIMO streams to be sent to a single device simultaneously. However, an 802.11ac station (STA) can receive up to eight spatial streams – effectively doubling the total network throughput. 802.11ac is also the first Wi-Fi standard to use multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO), which can divide the eight spatial streams among up to four STAs. This high throughput for fast data transfer and low power consumption enables longer battery life and superior performance for demanding applications. This will particularly benefit the growing number of consumers who stream high-bandwidth content on multiple devices simultaneously. Those users require an end-to-end ecosystem that can significantly reduce interference for videos, games and other media-intensive applications.
802.11ac products, which should reach the market in pre-certified devices later this year, will come for four different segments: mobile (smartphones), computing (notebooks and tablets), consumer electronics (TVs, gaming consoles, and DVRs), and home and enterprise networking (routers and access points).
For the evolving home entertainment network, 802.11ac means smoother, in-home HD video content distribution through smart TVs, gaming consoles and streaming media players (Smart DMAs). It will enable devices to efficiently serve as connectivity hubs and larger displays for nearby mobile products such as smartphones and tablets. 802.11ac also takes subscription channels like Netflix, Hulu or Vudu and improves the playback quality (which is hindered by previous wireless connections lacking proper bandwidth), to any device throughout the house.
There has also been a lot of anticipation for the truly “connected home” – the Jetsons fantasy becoming reality. By pairing 802.11ac connectivity with the most advanced media processors, the connected home will get advanced smart television solutions, with a high level of integration that allows for thin TV designs, including 4mm OLED panels. Gamers will enjoy high-performance peer-to-peer gaming anywhere, as well as latency-free gaming experiences on the home’s console.
Finally, for home and enterprise networking equipment, customer products can achieve up to 1.3 Gbps wireless data rates and target next-generation dual-band, dual-concurrent (DBDC) wireless access points, routers and gateways.
With the new 802.11ac standard, we’ll be able to give the smartphones, tablets and notebooks we use everyday more breathing room through Gigabit-capable Wi-Fi networking. Get ready – it’s happening sooner than you think.
Tim Peters is Senior Director of Product Management at Qualcomm Atheros, the networking and connectivity subsidiary of Qualcomm Incorporated.