Wifi over the next 3 years has two technologies which will treble and then treble again WiFi performance; however there are some caveats. But lets see how this plays out with the existing standards:
802.11n – is the basis for 4G WiFi networks. Its improves range and speed over earlier 3G 802.11 WiFi Standards. 802.11n delivers between 32Mbits/sec to 1000Mbits/sec depending on number of antennas used and the carrier band, 2.4GHz or 5.0GHz among oter factors. However, to date a number of limiting factors have seen 802.11n hardware delivering in the 5 to 20Mbit/sec area.
802.11ac – is the basis of the new 5G or Gigabit WiFi. 802.11ac is not quite finally ratified by the IEEE standards committee yet but is already supported by hardware suppliers with routers and network equipment. For example, at the January 2012 CES Show routers from Buffalo and network equipment from Cisco were announced. And 802.11ac delivers notable speed improvements again dependent on the number of antennas used and RF Bandwidth but ranging from 500Mbits/sec to 2500Mbits/sec.
802.11ad – is the basis of 6G WiFi. Already hardware suppliers are working on equipment for delivery in the 2014 time frame. Speed is projected to be in the 7000Mbits/sec range.
The WiFi Stumbling Blocks
So from a hardware viewpoint, users can look forward to an order of magnitude increase in WiFi speeds in the next 3-5 years. Currently living in a rural area where 4-5Mbits/sec is the norm, this party cannot wait for the the new WiFi breakthroughs to become reality. But as usual there are some serious flies in the ointment.
First and foremost, all the major telecom providers charge about $10/GB for monthly WiFi usage. For example, AT&T has monthly WiFi plans at $30 for 3GB /month and $50 for 5GB/month.If you get fiber optics based DSL service those charges per GB can decline notably. For example, Bell Canada offer 250GB/month for $85 or about $0.34cents/GB. But there are two problems: availability of Fibe is restricted to big cities and urban areas. And when users roam with a smartphone, tablet or laptop – they simply may not be able to find any WiFi support. Then users are back into adding on expensive WiFi plans for roaming purposes.
The second problem is that client hardware such as laptops, tablets and smartphones have to support the new 5G techology. That is why it has been notable that Apple appears to be making a committment to 5G WiFi in its upcoming Macs and AirPort routers for 2013. This is important for two reasons – it provides client side support for Mac desktops and laptops plus the critical Access point technology to support Gigabit ethernet. And given that Apple appears to be using 3 antennas, Macs should be able to provide true Gigabit or 5G WiFi speeds of about 1200Mbits/sec. Another plus is that the client 5G chips draw less power. The final plus is that if Apple adopts 802.11ac the PC vendors will surely have to follow otherwise their game and multi-media machinew will be badly outgunned by the new Macs.
However, there are higher costs for these new client and router 5G WiFi chips – and they are expected to be 2 -6 times the cost of existing 802.11 chips depending on the number of antennas deployed and frequency bands utilized. Also backward compatiblity with 802.xx WiFI technology adds to the costs of the new chips. Finally the router and the telecom WiFi delivery systems will surely be taxed by the new speeds possible. However, given increased mobile streaming demands [think Apple and Google TV among others], 5G Gigabit ethernet will have likely have significant market demand.
CES 2013 as a Predictor of 5G 802.11ac Gigabit Adoption
Last years CES 2012 already saw 5G Gigabit hardware and devices on the show floor. But holding things back were the fact that client devices like Macs and PCs and smartphones/tablets had little or no on board support for 5G. Also telecom WiFi providers were simply not 802.11ac ready.
See here for a good description of the problems with 802.11ac in 2012. Not surprisingly the lack of client chips in PCs, smartphones and tablets has been a major barrier. Also backward compatibility with older WiFi hardware plus the many 5G WiFi delivery mechanisms all provide challeneges to hardware suppliers. Finally, one commenter raises a key issue – the uphaul required at the telecom towers to support 5G access points that are gulping down data at rates often ten times what they are used to providing. How the telecoms provision hardware for this order of magnitude increase in demand and , more importantly, how telecoms charge for it are burning questions about the viability of 5G Gigabit WiFi. remember 802.11ad 6G WiFi is just 1-2 year down the road at another tripling in speed and some additional runtime hardware advantages – telecoms and consumers both may just take a raincheck on 5G.
So the list of CES 2013 suppliers proving 5G Gigabit gear will give a better understanding of how the industry is currently approaching 802.11ac 5G WiFi.
Amped Wireless – will produce 3 802.11ac routers with substantially increased coverage range while maintaining high speed performance using power amplifiers and directed antennas.
Broadcom – has 3 chips for 802.11ac and sees major player on the client side [Asus plus some unnamed smartphone and tablet makers] as well as on the Acces Point/Router side [DLink, NetGear, Belkin, Linksys and Buffalo] using its chips. The selling point is increased speed, lower power consumption, and greater WiFI range. Finally they are confident that the Apple committment to 5G WiFi will spur the Android and PC players.
HTC M7 - this HTC smartphone/tablet will feature 802.11ac chip for fatser download an upload speed, 4.7-inch SoLux display, 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon CPU, 2GB of RAM, a 2300mAh battery, 32GB of built-in storage and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Note the 5G WiFi is unique feature.
Linksys - EA6500 Smart HD Video Pro Dual-Band AC 1750 Wi-Fi Router features the new 802.11ac standard, and dual-bands with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, plus backwards compatibility with older devices running 802.11a/b/c/g/n. This is a multi-purpose router geared for HD and Video transfers.
Qualcomm – will be demoing StreamBoost 802.11ac technology that manages the many apps that draw on an access point/router for Home media management. StreamBoost maps usage cof the bandwidth closely and then patitions bandwidth among the many apps accordingly. Alienware and D-Link will be first to introduce StreamBoost powered 802.11ac routers.
Quantenna – has an award-winning 802.11ac chipset supporting home PC, streaming media, and wireless needs .
ZDNET – reviews 5 of the new 802.11ac routers to appear at CES2013 and their features and performance.
From these suppliers and products, it appears that 802.11ac wil be like tablets at last years show, one of the major emerging technologies at CES 2013. With three chipmakers, Broadcom, Qualcomm, and Quantenna, both client and router devices manufacturers will have ample product designs to choose from. And of course the rumor that 802.11ac will be implemented in Apple Macs will certainly galvanize Android and PC vendors. Both Qualcomm and Broadcomm are expecting to see their chips appear in PC, smartphone and tablet clients. – many of which they expect to see annoucements at CES2013. The smartphone announcements may be delayed until the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona in February 2013.
The 802.11ac standard itself will likely see approval in the 1st quarter of 2013. This will help to solidify such advanced 802.11ac features such as beamforming and advanced multiples antennas [up to 8] which will in turn increase the range and top speed of 802.11ac devices. But the fact that 802.11ac uses the 5GHz band exclusively where there are less competing WiFi usage means the reliability and speed of 802.11ac devices will be much better than their 802.11 competitors.
Yet there are other benefits to 802.11ac over current WiFi including power savings, extended range [albeit with diminished speed] and more software extension opportunities. Qualcomm has StreamBoost while has a wide range of hardware+software customizations available to its chip users. Finally, competing wireless tecnologies like 802.11ad and 802.22 have notable limitations in range[802.11ad] or performance plus capital upgrade requirements[802.22], such that 802.11ac 5G WiFi should see take off this year as a niche market breaks into broder market acceptance.
The one major constraint to 802.11ac success will be the uphaul improvements and pricing changing required of telecom companies. However, with Apple [and possibly Google] TV as motivator – the telecoms may add yet another Data Plan to their already Byzantine stable of offerings. But with Home HD and media requirements exploding, telecom and Cable providers will have every reason to attach to one of the emerging 802.11ac delivery mechanisms, lest they be cut out of the action by start ups or device savvy cable network suppliers. In sum expect 5GWiFi to take off starting with CES2013. There is a reason that 802.11ac chip supplier Broadcom, is taking over the vacated keynote speaking spot reserved for Microsoft in the past – Broadcomm with its 5G WiFi has some of the most promising new technology that CES thrives on.