802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi poised to become highest shipping Wi-Fi standard: report

With support in more than 60 client devices and more than 25 routers, the 802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi standard is gaining traction and will become the highest shipping Wi-Fi standard yet, according to Strategy Analytics.

Users of Wave 2 will see noticeable benefits, including reduced network congestion across residential and public Wi-Fi networks and lower Wi-Fi power consumption in mobile devices, according to a new report, "802.11ac Wave 2 with MU-MIMO: The Next Mainstream Wi-Fi Standard," published by Strategy Analytics RF & Wireless Component Services (RFWC).

The catch is, word hasn't necessarily made it to the average consumer, who likely will be baffled by the alphabet soup that is out there to identify the latest in Wi-Fi gear. Most can probably figure out that 802.11ac is the latest iteration of the technology, but it's difficult to decipher what the various numbers on packages mean, according to Strategy Analytics analyst Chris Taylor. If you go to a store and look for 802.11ac Wave 2, the router might actually have a lower number on it, suggesting it's not as good, yet it can deliver much better performance. "I don't think consumers are quite aware of Wave 2 yet," he said.

802.11ac Wave 2 uses downlink multi-user multiple input/multiple output (MU-MIMO) to send data to up to four clients simultaneously, reducing contention and improving overall network throughput substantially. In comparison, 802.11ac Wave 1 uses single-user MIMO, or SU-MIMO, to address multiple clients sequentially, using beamforming to direct the signal preferentially to each client. Taylor notes in the report that chip vendors say that serving three clients simultaneously provides better performance than four.

Ruckus Wireless touted the first access point with Wave 2 earlier this year with support for enterprises and service providers with the introduction of its Zone Flex R710. Ruckus says the unique advantage that it delivers is based on its dual-band smart antenna technology. Aruba, Cisco and Xirrus Wireless also supply Wave 2 infrastructure for the enterprise. For residential Wave 2 infrastructure, the report lists 17 different models from suppliers like Asus, Buffalo, D-Link, Netgear and more.

Of course, consumers get the maximum benefits when the technology is supported in both the access point and the end-user device. Taylor said there are a lot of devices out there with Wave 2, such as the Samsung Galaxy S6, Nexus 5X, ZTE Nubia Z9, Xiaomi Mi4c and others. The iPhone doesn't have it yet, but Taylor said he believes Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) will add it, and many more smartphones will include 802.11ac starting in 2016.

802.11ac operates in the 5 GHz band using chipsets that generally support 802.11n at 2.4 GHz as well. For cellular operators, Wave 2 provides a better Wi-Fi user experience, reducing the likelihood of users turning off Wi-Fi and putting more load on the cellular network, the report notes. For consumer access points, prices tend to range from $125 to a little over $300, Taylor said.

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