Buffalo Technology – WZR-D1800H – one of the two 802.11ac rist routers
A new WIFI standard known as IEEE 802.11ac has just seen its first supporting commercial products reach the market. Both Netgear and Buffalo Technology released wireless routers supporting the new protocol which will usher a new and faster wireless age.
802.11ac (or 5G WIFI as it is sometimes called unofficially, and no it has nothing to do with 3G/4G or LTE) is a new wireless computer standard which has not yet been completely finalized. Although the first chipsets supporting the new standard reached the market late in 2011 its only not that the first consumer products supporting 802.11ac are getting to the market.
What so special about 802.11ac and how it differ from the existing 802.11n (and for that matter from older 802.11a/b/g protocols)? The most important difference is speed. While 802.11n can reach a maximum upper (theoretical) speed limit of 450Mbps, the new 802.11ac can reach a (again theoretical) top speed of 1300Mbps or 3 times as fast. Although actual speed should be far lower (due to a multitude of reasons) 802.11ac has already proven to have a far superior speed in early testing.
Beside speed there are a few other differences between the new standard and the older ones. 802.11ac uses only the 5Ghz Frequency band and thus is only backward compatible with 802.11n. However this should not pose a serious problem as all 802.11ac will come equipped with both 802.11ac operating on 5Ghz Frequency and an "older" 802.1n operating on the 2.4Ghz Frequency (which is backward compatible with 802.11a/b/g and of course other 802.11n products).
Another change include reduced power consumption in some operating conditions (especially when large chunks of information need to be passed between devices (in other scenarios such as a constant internet connection it’s not clear if the new 802.11ac will have a big advantage in terms of power).
The first products that reached the market are not cheap (around $180 for routers – more or less the same as top end 802.11n routers). If you are looking for a new high end router you might want to look for those new 802.11ac ones but keep in mind that the 802.11ac is still a new and rather unproven standard (which has not even been fully finalized yet) so some caution might be in order.
Iddo has a B.A. in Philosophy and Cognitive Science and an M.A. in Philosophy of Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is currently writing his Ph.D. thesis on the relationship between the scientific community and industry. Iddo was awarded the 2006 Bar Hillel philosophy of science prize for his work on the relationship between science and technology. He is a member of the board of the lifeboat foundation and was the editor of several high-profile science and technology websites since 1999.