802.11ac ready to scream into the marketplace

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BARCELONA, Spain--Offering potential data speeds in excess of 1 Gbps, Wi-Fi products based upon 802.11ac will quickly hit the market in a much broader range of products than the standard's predecessor, 802.11n.

Broad industry coalescence around 802.11ac's features and specs combined with demand for Wi-Fi in virtually every smartphone as well as numerous other devices is laying the groundwork for a successful launch of the new technology, said David Favreau, vice president of product management at Qualcomm Atheros (NASDAQ:QCOM).

That contrasts with the launch of 802.11n, which was mired in long debates over the standard, prompting the release of many uncertified, incompatible products that helped slow adoption of that technology, as did the fact that Wi-Fi was considerably less ubiquitous when 802.11n arrived on the scene.

In addition, the market is expected to jump on the numerous advantages that 802.11ac offers over 802.11n. Among other things, 802.11ac will work exclusively in 5 GHz band--offering much greater capacity than the cluttered 2.4 GHz band--and will employ much wider communications channels, make better use of MIMO technologies and provide a higher modulation coding scheme to improve Wi-Fi throughput and performance.

Favreau said the Wi-Fi Alliance aims to certify 802.11ac in February 2013, so Qualcomm will begin sampling 802.11ac chips to customers in the second quarter of 2012 to ensure OEMs can offer commercial products with full certification in early 2013. Though some retail devices will likely hit the market prior to certification, Favreau said most OEMs want to wait for the Wi-Fi seal of approval in he first quarter before they unleash their 802.11ac products.

Qualcomm, which bought out Atheros in May 2011, used the Mobile World Congress to promote its first 802.11n products. Its booth included a demo of the WCN3680 single-stream 802.11ac Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/FM chip for smartphones and tablets. The chip was installed inside smartphone prototypes, which were consistently showing data speeds of around 220 Mbps.   

In addition to the mobile chip being demonstrated, Qualcomm is also touting two- and three-stream 802.11ac solutions that can achieve up data rates up to 1.3 Gbps and are aimed at several categories, including computing, consumer devices and home and enterprise network access equipment.

Rival chipmaker Broadcom was also demonstrating one-, two- and three-stream 11ac radios at its MWC booth. According an article in Network World, Broadcom is in the pre-production phase for its two-stream and three-stream chips and predicts its OEM customers will be offering products such as access points and routers by mid-2012, well in advance of certification.

Broadcom is promoting its 802.11ac products as having "5G Wi-Fi," for the fifth generation of Wi-Fi. The company has created the www.5GWiFi.org Web site to promote this moniker, prompting some concern among industry players that the name may raise consumer confusion regarding the actual technology being deployed, particularly given the way "4G" has been bandied about by mobile operators whose networks use a variety of air interface technologies.

For more:
- see this Broadcom release
- see this Qualcomm release
- see this Network World article
- see this Broadcom 5GWifi.org blog

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