IEEE 802.11ac & IEEE 802.11ad Wireless Technologies – Think beyond 802.11n!

Earlier, Wireless Networks were slow to catch up with Wired Networks in terms of speed and bandwidth. With the implementation of IEEE 802.11n Wireless Networks, the equation slightly balanced out. Now, two more Wireless protocols (IEEE 802.11ac & IEEE 802.11ad) are in the making and they supposedly bring Gigabit Ethernet performance over the wireless network. Let’s learn more about these two protocols in this article.

Well, we all know what it took to upgrade our ‘b/g’ network to ‘n’ network. New Access Points, New Controller (with a higher throughput capacity), New Backbone Cabling / POE Gigabit Switches, New client adapters (or) New laptops, and what not!  Basically, the up-gradation demanded replacing most of the Network components.

Many companies and organizations have not even fully upgraded to the 802.11n network which provides a (shared) throughput capacity of 450 Mbps/ 600 Mbps, depending on a lot of factors. In this backdrop, do we need another high-speed wireless standard?

New technologies do take some time to mature and get fully implemented. By the time the new wireless network is ready, bandwidth hungry applications should be ready to take advantage of them as well!

IEEE 802.11ac Wireless Standard:

802.11ac would operate on Sub-6 Ghz frequencies. It is expected to operate primarily in the 5 Ghz spectrum and perhaps in the 2.4 Ghz spectrum as well. These two frequency ranges are already common with the older standards and they belong to unlicensed frequency spectrum, almost throughout the world.

The 802.11ac Wireless standard is expected to give a throughput of around 1 Gbps. The actual throughput may vary from 293 Mbps to 3.5 Gbps depending on a number of factors like Number of MIMO Spatial streams used, Modulation technique, short guard interval, etc.

802.11ac is expected to have backward compatibility with 802.11n/a, as these technologies can operate in the 5Ghz spectrum. Further, 802.11ac is expected to support higher channel bandwidth of 80 MHz / 160 MHz (Optional) to give higher throughput, in addition to supporting 20 Mhz, 40 Mhz, etc. used by the earlier standards.

802.11ac is also expected to support multiple bandwidth operation (few clients operating with a higher bandwidth, few with a lower bandwidth simultaneously) within a frequency band, in order to fully support legacy clients on the network. So, one can migrate to this standard in a phased manner while still retaining many of the 802.11n network components.

802.11ac might support a technology called MU-MIMO (Multi User MIMO) where multiple STA’s can transmit and receive independent data streams simultaneously.

This standard is expected to be available by the end of 2012, but one can expect the Wi-Fi alliance certified, IEEE draft compliant products available earlier.

IEEE 802.11ad Wireless Standard:

802.11ad would operate in the 60 Ghz spectrum, which is also a part of the unlicensed frequency band in most of the countries. One of the advantages of  60 GHz frequency is the fact that it has more available spectrum than the 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz frequency bands.

The 802.11ad Wireless standard is expected to give a throughput of around 7 Gbps but higher bandwidth can be realized at relatively shorter ranges.

The channel bandwidth for each channel in 802.11ad might be as much as 50 times more that what was available with 802.11n. This enables higher speeds and throughput.

Don’t be surprised if Tri-band radios (Operating in 60 Ghz, 5 Ghz & 2.4 Ghz) become available for interoperability with earlier standards and multi-band operation. But these details are not yet confirmed.

Upgrading to 802.11ad wireless standard might not only require changing wireless access points / client wireless adapters, but it might also require new wireless controllers.

There is another upcoming wireless standard called WiGig developed by an industry consortium. This standard is similar to 802.11ad as it operates in the 60 Ghz spectrum and they have even contributed to 802.11ad standard. So, 802.11ad and WiGig are expected to be inter-operable.

Its quite early to comment on these upcoming wireless standards and this article intends to throw some light on their technicalities, based on information available at present. But when these standards are actually released, they are expected to incorporate the latest advances in technology available by then.

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