Wireless networking has become one of the fastest growing trends in the home computer market. The latest complete standard, 802.11n (or “wireless-N”), is capable of speeds faster than many wired networks and has better range and reliability than its predecessors. However, a replacement standard called 802.11ac (or “wireless-AC”) is already on the drawing board and some manufacturers have even released products using the incomplete standard.
802.11ac, expected to have final approval in 2013, improves upon many of the new technologies that debuted in the 802.11n standard. Wireless-N typically connects at speeds up to 150Mbps, with some higher end devices capable of an impressive 300Mbps or even 450Mbps. However, wireless-AC promises to triple those speeds so the lower end devices using wireless-AC will be as fast as the highest-end devices using the current 802.11n standard and the higher end devices will be able to outperform today’s fastest wired connections. While wireless-N is already fast enough for most current network needs, including streaming HD video, the 802.11ac standard promises to allow even higher quality media to be streamed to multiple devices at the same time.
In addition to huge speed increases, the new standard also promises better range and reliability. Although the overall technology behind it is complex, there are two features of 802.11ac that make the biggest difference. Firstly, wireless-AC will use the 5GHz wireless spectrum, which helps to avoid interference with wireless phones and many other devices (including older wireless-G and wireless-B networks) that use the 2.4GHz frequency.