Interop: Don't sweat 802.11ac Wi-Fi - because 802.11ad will knock your socks off

While the Wi-Fi world is rightly abuzz over the rapidly approaching large-scale deployment of the new 802.11ac standard, experts at an Interop NY panel said today that the 802.11ad standard is likely to be even more transformative.

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"802.11ac is an extension for pure mainstream Wi-Fi," said Sean Coffey, Realtek's director of standards and business development. "It's evolutionary. ... You're not going to see dramatically new use cases."

802.11ac is a development of the current 802.11n standard, producing improved performance on the same 5GHz frequency bands. Some routers using the 802.11ac have already been deployed, and the experts on the panel agreed that it will become commonplace by early 2013.

By contrast, 802.11ad adds 60GHz connectivity to the previously used 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, potentially providing multi-gigabit connection speeds and dramatically broadening the number of applications for which wireless can be used.

"There are some unique characteristics about the 60GHz band that really help in bringing a whole bunch of new use cases," said Mark Grodzinsky, vice president of marketing for 60GHz pioneer Wilocity. Some of those uses include wireless docking and uncompressed HD video streaming.

"60 GHz is also highly directional," he added. "So whereas in 2.4 and 5 [GHz] it's pretty much an omnidirectional transmission, meaning the antennas just blow energy in all directions, with 60GHz, it's very focused."

However, 802.11ad will still not represent a wholesale shift in the nature of Wi-Fi, according to Coffey.

"When you add in [802.11ad], I would see this as an island of super-high data rate present in a sea of gigabit Wi-Fi. What it does is allow you to do a massive amount of Wi-Fi offloading." The idea is that the localized but high-bandwidth 60GHz network can be used for specific, highly demanding tasks, keeping the standard 5GHz frequency free for normal use, he explained.

Devices using the 60GHz standard could begin to appear in 2014 and become more prominent in 2015. This means that the next major transition is still well over a year away - in part because 802.11ac will not be a particularly testing upgrade for most end users.

Coffey noted that the bandwidth issues that plagued the 802.11a/b/g to 802.11n transition won't be present in the move to 802.11ac, since the frequencies are the same.

"The good news is that I think you will see a lot of these new channels being much more usable," he said, "just because there wasn't this extra factor."

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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