What is 802.11ac Standard in Wireless Networks?

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Jaspreet Kaur
Jaspreet has done Master in Technology Science (Research) from IIT Delhi. Her area of expertise is in masters thesis on neuroimaging tools and their application in the study of addiction. She enjoys reading and teaching.

802.11ac is one of the latest and more advanced IEEE standards for wireless networking. A standard here refers to a set of a specification which the state the methods to be used for data transmission in wireless networks such as wireless local area networks (WLAN). 802.11ac is known to provide a massive boost in data speed with capability up to 500 Mbps with 5 GHz frequency band. It is far better than its previous best standard, i.e. 802.11n, but is on the expensive side. Let us find out more about this standard in detail.

History of 802.11ac

Development of the specification began as early as September 2008. The standard was finalized at the end of 2013 but was formally approved on January 7, 2014.

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A lot of manufacturers had already started manufacturing devices compatible with the new specification based on an older draft of the specification.

Features

802.11ac specification improved on the earlier version by optimizing existing technologies. Some of the features that helped to enhance the network include:

Frequency

802.11ac operated on 5 GHz frequency band. Using higher frequency allows the radio waves to carry more data, thus improving the speed of the network.

5 GHz frequency band avoids much of the interference by different household devices such as Bluetooth headsets and microwave ovens, which operates at 2.4 GHz. This reason was sole good enough for users to upgrade their mobile devices and hotspot APs to dual-band capability for maximizing the benefit of 5 GHz band.

Speed

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Similar to 802.11n (or Wireless N), the speed of 802.11ac depends on the number of streams being used. The speed of 802.11ac is set to be thrice of that on 802.11n. For a single stream, data transfer rate is capped at 450 Mbps (theoretical limit is 500 Mbps).

With three streams, data transfer rate can go up to 1.3 Gbps. This makes 802.11ac the first wireless standard that breaks the gigabit barrier. Thus, it is also called Gigabit WiFi as it packed the benefit of gigabit ethernet with the freedom of wireless network. 802.11ac supports a maximum of 8 data streams which is double when compared to 802.11n.

Channel bandwidth

802.11ac specifications use a minimum of 80 MHz channel bandwidth for stations. This bandwidth can go as high as 160 MHz. Earlier, in 802.11n, channel bandwidth was limited to 40 MHz.

An increase in channel bandwidth allows faster data transfer. 802.11ac claims a minimum throughput of 500 Mbps per data stream.

Multi-User MIMO

802.11ac improves on 802.11g by adopting a technology called multi-user MIMO (multiple inputs multiple outputs). In this technique, the base station can communicate to multiple radios and antennas (read users) simultaneously.

This is in contrast to previous standards where a single user MIMO was used. There the connection can be formed with only one antenna at a time. 802.11ac allows a maximum of 4 users.

Backward Compatibility

802.11ac comes with backward compatibility with 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n. This means that if you buy a new device which is equipped with 802.11ac specifications, it will work with your existing router.

Similarly, upgrading your router to 802.11ac standard will let you work with your existing laptop. However, in both the above cases, the data transfer rate will be limited by the older technology. To enjoy faster data transfer rates that 802.11ac offers, you need to upgrade both your router and devices to 802.11ac specifications.

Final words

We can conclude 802.11ac standard as the improved version of previous standards. It offers higher speeds over wider bandwidths. This upgraded standard can address the density issue that most of the networks are experiencing now and will see more in near future.

Today wireless is the most convenient and desired access to any network. Also, 802.11ac has proved to be the right technology for things like IoT. The standard also suits applications, streaming videos, which requires heavy utilization of bandwidth. It is highly recommended for business and IT hubs to upgrade their network and devices to support this new standard. It will for sure provide enough room for growth and future expansion.

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