Gigabit Wi-Fi Won’t Happen In 2014

FCC Releases A Chunk of the 5GHz Spectrum To Wi-Fi

About a month ago, on March 31, 2014, the FCC opened up another chunk of the airwaves to wi-fi communication.

As you may know, wi-fi operates in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum; in 2013, the government told the FCC they didn’t need a 100MHz chunk of the spectrum they’d been using adjacent to the wi-fi 5GHz band, so now the FCC has made that available to wi-fi, with some restrictions.

The bottom line effect of their ruling is that gigabit wi-fi is now possible, using the new protocol 801.11ac. This is more than double the speed available on the previous fastest protocol, 801.11n.

Practically speaking, this means your home network with an 801.11ac router can support multiple HD video streams to multiple devices.

Can You Get Gigabit Speeds?

This capability doesn’t mean YOU can get gigabit throughput on your computer or tablet.

To achieve gigabit throughput, you need to use three data streams, each of which peak out at about 433Mb. The typical 801.11ac router will support eight of these data streams, but the devices receiving the data only support one.

This means with the best current wi-fi devices, you’ll only get about 1/3 of the speed possible from the 802.11ac router. However, in that most devices aren’t set up to achieve even that speed, your device will probably be slower.

Tests at ZDNet show the fastest device they were able to test (a Netgear R6300 router) got a top speed of only 331MHz. Definitely not gigabit, but still significantly faster than 801.11n.

The new protocol also supposedly has increased range, through something called “beam forming.”

Illustration of Beam-Forming TechnologyWhat this really means is still a big foggy, but so far, as I understand it, the older technologies broadcast in a sphere, while 802.11ac broadcasts directly to a specified device. As I said, how this works is still unclear, but the upshot is that if you have a limited number of devices (8 or less?) using your router, you should get excellent range.

There are a few other problems anticipated, particularly in corporate environments, that will get in the way of implementing this new technology.

Not Gigabit, But Faster than 802.11n

For home users, we should be seeing faster wi-fi speeds, oh, by the time we buy our next computers.

By this time, I should hope these computers or tablets would have a receiver that would handle more than one datastream.

Maybe then we could get true gigabit wi-fi.

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