With faster 5G Wi-Fi coming, Wi-Fi Alliance kicks off certification program

Process ensures 802.11ac devices work well with older Wi-Fi products

Although faster fifth-generation Wi-Fi is already available in some new wireless routers and even the new MacBook Air laptops, a new Wi-Fi Certified ac program is being launched today to ensure the newest devices interoperate with other Wi-Fi products.

The Wi-Fi Alliance announced the certification program for 802.11ac Wi-Fi (also known as 5G Wi-Fi). Mobile devices, tablets, laptops, networking gear and other hardware will be available in the last half of 2013 with a Wi-Fi Certified label, ensuring that the devices have been tested to interoperate with other 802.11ac products and older Wi-Fi products.

"The certification program ensures that users can purchase the latest device and not worry if it will work with a device of two years or even 10 years ago," said Kevin Robinson, senior marketing manager for the Wi-Fi Alliance in an interview.

The faster Wi-Fi allows two-to-three times faster speeds than existing 802.11n technology, Robinson said. It will enhance the speed of movie downloads and other user needs in a home or work place.

Robinson said that 802.11ac should allow a transfer of an HD movie to a tablet in under four minutes, and allow for multiple video streams inside a home at one time. "The average user will notice the difference," he said, contrary to what some analysts have predicted.

Theoretical maximum speeds on 802.11ac can reach 1.3 Gbps, three times 802.11n's speeds of 450 Mbps. Older 802.11g supports theoretical speeds of up to 54 Mbps. Actual speeds will be far lower, depending mainly on the number of users and the type of data being transferred.

Aside from faster speeds, 802.11ac allows for more network capacity so that more devices can be simultaneously connected to a network. Because of the added network capacity with 802.11ac, Robinson said that movies can be run without as much less compression, enhancing their overall visual quality. Wi-Fi over 802.11ac also reduces network latency, resulting in fewer delays in streaming music and gaming applications.

Wi-Fi Direct, which is technology to allow device-to-device interoperability with 802.11n, is not yet part of the 802.11ac certification program, Robinson said.

The Wi-Fi Alliance predicts that many of the new routers made with 802.11ac will operate on both the 5GHz and 2.4 GHz bands. That way, 802.11n traffic will be able to run over both bands, while 802.11ac traffic runs over 5GHz. Robinson said that 2.4 GHz will remain sufficient for carrying data for many apps and uses, such as Web browsing. Migrating to 5GHz allows wider spectrum channels with higher data throughputs, yielding higher performance. An advantage of 5 GHz is that various channel widths are supported -- 20 MHz, 40 MHz and 80 MHz-- while 2.4GHz allows only three 20 MHz channels.

The Wi-Fi Alliance said 11 chips and other components are being used to test new 802.11 ac devices. They are from Broadcom, Intel, Marvell, Mediatek, Qualcomm and Realtek. A list of Wi-Fi Certified ac products is available at www.wi-ficertifiedac.com.

As an indication of the fast industry adoption of 802.11ac, Aruba Networks on May 21 announced new Wi-Fi access points supporting the technology and said more recently that the University of Delaware is a beta customer. Aruba is working for Wi-Fi Certified AC certification of the new access points, a spokeswoman said.

Robinson predicted that many of the recently announced routers and other products will seek Wi-Fi 802.11ac certification.

This article, With faster 5G Wi-Fi coming, Wi-Fi Alliance kicks off certification program, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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