The Wi-Fi Alliance officially launched its "Wi-Fi Certified ac" program for 802.11ac, whose higher data rates and greater capacity promise to drive even more offloading from cellular to Wi-Fi networks.
"We are launching this certification in advance of the finalization of the IEEE standard, which is exactly what we did with 802.11n," said Greg Ennis, the Wi-Fi Alliance's technical director, noting 802.11ac's ratification is not expected until 2014.
It is appropriate to begin the certification program now because "products are already coming out on market and the spec really is finalized," he told FierceBroadbandWireless.
The first products forming the test suite for the 802.11ac certification program include reference designs from major chipset vendors Broadcom, Intel, Marvell, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Realtek.
802.11ac products should provide reduced latency and data rates more than double those of a typical 802.11n network. The new standard should also handle Ultra HD and 4K video, multimedia and rapid file transfers with ease.
Those are crucial and much-needed Wi-Fi improvements given that 60 percent of U.S. respondents indicated they are using Wi-Fi for multimedia applications more now than they were three years ago, according to a recent poll conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of the Wi-Fi Alliance.
802.11ac operates in the 5 GHz band, which is considerably less congested than the 2.4 GHz band. Most Wi-Fi certified 802.11ac products are expected to operate in both bands, providing support for the older 802.11n standard at 2.4 GHz. ABI Research forecasts shipments of dual-band Wi-Fi chipsets will exceed 1.5 billion by the end of 2014.
802.11ac is expected to be widely adopted by handset vendors, and this will, in turn, drive adoption in Wi-Fi routers used by hotspot providers, said Ennis.
"This is very important for the big operators that are looking at Wi-Fi as a small cell technology for offloads from LTE," he said, adding that 802.11ac will increase the capacity of Wi-Fi networks that are available to handle data traffic coming off of the cellular networks. "This will accelerate the push of Wi-Fi as a small cell technology," said Ennis.
Wi-Fi certified 802.11ac mobile devices, tablets, laptops, consumer electronics products and networking gear are slated for availability in the second half of this year, with consumer product adoption preceding use in enterprise environments and industrial applications.
The Wi-Fi Alliance also has WiGig certification on its plate thanks to its ongoing merger with the WiGig Alliance, which had originally hoped to begin official WiGig certification in early 2013. WiGig, based on the 802.11ad standard, operates in the unlicensed 60 GHz band and offers short-range multi-gigabit connections with speeds up to 7 Gbps.
The two groups are currently addressing business and financial aspects of the merger, which Ennis said should be completed "in a couple of months." At that point, all of the WiGig working groups and certification efforts will fall under the Wi-Fi Alliance umbrella.
The Wi-Fi Alliance will then proceed with plugfests and related tests to ultimately identify devices that will form the WiGig interoperability test bed for certification. "That will be ongoing through the rest of the year towards the launch in the 2014 time frame," he said.
- see this Wi-Fi Alliance release
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