In this blog, we like to look towards the future. After all, a smart network purchase doesn't just cover your needs
today - it's an investment in an infrastructure you'll be using for years.
Knowing what's on the horizon for WiFi means you have more options in planning, and a better idea where your upgrade roadmap might take you!
I apologize in advance for the confusing naming conventions. Blame the IEEE; they're the ones giving everything cryptic numbers rather than names.
The Current Top Standard: 802.11ac wireless access point
Currently, the state of the art in available WiFi is the 802.11ac standard, which is coming to replace the previous 802.11n standard. 802.11ac - is capable of a truly impressive 1.3 gigabits per second of throughput, which means it can transfer a gigabyte of information (such as a single 720p film) in about six and a half seconds.
802.11ac is also fully backwards compatible with previous standards, so an 802.11ac system can still talk to your older hardware. However, of course, the older hardware won't be able to take advantage of that throughput, so it would potentially create a bottleneck.
Taking it further, the top-line 802.11ac access points can contain up to eight separate antennas, giving them a total throughput of 6.77gb/sec, or more than a gigabyte per second.
In realistic terms, that's far more speed than a small business, or even most medium-sized firms, are likely to need. None the less, as 802.11ac becomes more common, and bandwidth gets cheaper, it's likely to become ubiquitous quickly.
Firms looking several years down the line will likely want to invest in 802.11ac, so the speed will be there when they need it.
The Shape Of Wi-Fi Yet To Come
So, let's say you don't particularly need to upgrade your network today, but you may be looking to within another few years. Keeping in mind that standards may change, what will be probably available in the near future?
1 - 802.11ad
This standard was first approved in 2013, and the hardware to match is now being developed with an expected release date next year. When it debuts, 802.11ad will blow 802.11ac out of the water by taking advantage of 60Ghz wavelengths. A single 802.11ad access point should be roughly equivalent to that eight-antenna 802.11ac mega-access point we mentioned above.
The expected throughput would be around 7gb/sec on one antenna, which would make 4K video streams practical for wireless broadcast.
2 - 802.11af
The standard itself only got approved in February 2014, so it will be a few years before 802.11af hits retailers. What makes this standard different is that it will operate on the "unused" broadcast spectrum that was once reserved for terrestrial television sets, in the 54-790mhz range.
It will actually use a "smart" combination of geolocation services to determine, by itself, which channels are available in a given area. Which is to say, it can prevent interference from existing terrestrial broadcasters by automatically avoiding those frequencies.
It won't be as fast as 802.11ad, but it will make WiFi more reliable in areas where the local broadcast spectrum is already crowded.
3 - 802.11ah
Finally, the 802.11ah standard has only been proposed, and won't be approved until around 2016. Products won't appear until at least 2018, or possibly even 2020.
When it appears, 802.11ah will be the "cloud-based" Wi-Fi standard. The purpose is not to enhance the capabilities of one access point, but rather allowing an entire subnetwork to work together to maximize efficiency.
After it debuts, this will likely be popular among cloud service providers and large firms looking to minimize their operating costs.
Keep Looking To The Future
Hopefully, this has given you a better idea of what the next few years of WiFi are going to look like. As always, if you've got questions about your networking future, just ask the experts for a free consultation!