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Get Ready for WiFi 2.0

By Matt Simpson - Monday, January 09, 2012

Today, we have smart phones that can download HD video; we have SSD drives that can transfer over half a Gigabyte per second. USB 3.0 transfers faster than some of the old optical connections. Gigabit and 10 gigabit Ethernet will soon become the norm. What is going to happen to our poor wireless connections?

The new draft will be named 802.11 AC and should help bring Wi-Fi up to par with the rest of our devices in terms of speed. The fastest hard drive in the world will not help if you are bottlenecked by slow network transfers and the new spec hopes to take that bottleneck out of the equation.

History

When the 802.11b spec was released, it was the must have thing in networking. It didn’t matter that wired connections could still transfer at much higher speeds for most people, the convenience of being able to connect to the network and by extension; the internet wirelessly was a new and exciting idea. Soon, however, the leap forward in technology made the b spec unsuitable for data transfers and was soon relegated to a remote connection for browsing the internet. This was the late 90’s and while the 802.11b setup would rarely achieve above 1mbps in the real world it was enough.

Internet speeds were on the rise too and soon the b spec was not nearly enough to even get full use of the new broadband internet connections. The A spec was supposed to resolve the issues, but in the real world, the range was lessened and the speed increases it promised were never fully realized. There was limited implementation of the A spec in the early part of the century, but most waited for the arrival of 802.11g. This would serve as the most long lived and most widely installed Wi-Fi version ever. Its theoretical speed was 54mbps and the range was vastly increased compared to 802.11b. In the real world, 20 or so mbps was about all that most of the hardware could achieve, but it was still fast enough for internet and some file transfers.

It wasn’t until 2007 that we got another version of Wi-Fi, the 802.11 N spec. This used multi channel multiplexing to achieve huge speeds, although almost no hardware, even today, takes full advantage of the spec. The problem with the n spec was twofold. First, while the standard speed was said to be 150mbps, rarely did actual speeds go beyond about 30mbps. This left little reason for people to upgrade a system of g spec equipment that was already working correctly. The N spec was also hampered by the ability to run in both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz spectrum.

More specifically the lack of hardware working in the 5 GHz band was the problem. This higher frequency reduced the range but would often increase the maximum speed at which transfers could occur. The 5 GHz hardware was also much more expensive than its 2.4 GHz equivalent. While there was hardware which could support both bands, the 2.4 GHz was almost always chosen as it was backwards compatible with the ubiquitous G spec.

802.11AC

While the draft is said to be ratified by the end of this year, Broadcom is already making the chips for parts such as routers, USB and PCI-E network cards, and for OEM use. It is likely that this new draft will be 5 GHz only, which is good given the relative lack of traffic on that band. We should see speeds of around 1.3gbps maximum when it fist arrives with later speeds said to be able to increase up to 3.6 GHz. I for one can’t wait.




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