The emerging 802.11ac standard, which is aimed at gigabit-speed wireless LANs, will be quickly adopted over the next four years but will still be dwarfed by the current 802.11n technology, research company In-Stat said in a new report.
The standard is being developed to achieve more than 1G bps (bit per second) of network throughput by expanding on the broad frequency bands and multiple-antenna capabilities of 802.11n, which now represents a majority of Wi-Fi shipments, according to In-Stat analyst Frank Dickson. The top theoretical speed for 11n is about 600M bps, with a high-end configuration, but it typically delivers about 150M bps.
In-Stat estimates that nearly 350 million routers, client devices and attached modems with 11ac will ship annually by 2015, following a sharp curve up from about 1 million units in 2012, probably the first year when 11ac products will be sold, Dickson said.
But even in 2015, shipments of 11n will outnumber sales of the new technology. Dickson forecasted that 1.5 billion products equipped with 11n will be sold that year, more than double the estimated 700 million in 2011. The 802.11ac standard will be backward compatible with 11n, and products are likely to support both.
One possible limiting factor for 802.11ac is that not many users need the additional speed, Dickson said. For example, 802.11ac might be good for sharing video between devices within a home, but most consumers' need for bandwidth is limited by the speed of their broadband Internet connection, often just a few megabits per second. However, the higher capacity of 11ac could allow more users in an office or a public place to achieve high speeds, and might help companies get by with fewer access points, according to In-Stat analyst Alan Nogee.
"Many times, the speed of ac will exceed the speed of broadband coming into the home," Dickson said. "In an enterprise location, you may see a whole lot more need."
Unlike 11n, the new standard probably won't get cheaper to the point where it replaces current technology as the standard installation on laptops and other products, Dickson said. Whereas the 11n standard allows vendors to use multiple antennas in an access point or client radio, 11ac requires it, he said. That will keep the new technology as a premium product for special needs, he said. "There will always be a cost premium on ac," Dickson said.
Because of cost and the fact that it will drive more speed than a phone would typically need, 11ac is not likely to be built into many handsets, Dickson said. As a result, most carriers probably won't deploy it as part of a cellular offload strategy, he added.
Despite its high speed, 11ac won't cut into sales of WiGig, an emerging multigigabit system for short-range wireless links, typically between two devices in the same room, Dickson said. WiGig will use high frequencies in the 60GHz band, while 802.11ac will use the same bands as 802.11n. And whereas WiGig would be used mostly for applications such as streaming video from a PC to a monitor or TV, the 11ac standard is intended for traditional wireless LANs with a central access point and a variety of connected clients, he said.
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