Most people don’t pay too much attention to that little letter that follows the 802.11 to describe the WiFi standard supported by the device they’re buying. But the latest advance in technology to 802.11ac may actually be worth squinting your eyes or polishing your glasses to read the packaging for, especially when you’re buying a router to sit at the centre of your wireless networking.

While final approval from the IEEE hasn’t been delivered for the standard yet, you can find routers from various vendors on the market already using the draft standard. It’s expected that the standard will become so popular that a billion devies supporting it will be on the market by 2015. Currently there are a few smartphones on the market that support the standard, including the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4. In the laptop department, the MacBook Air 2013 supports 802.11ac and the Asus ROG G75VS gaming laptop does too.

Wireless standards didn’t used to be so important. So long as there was good enough throughput, most scenarios just five years ago involved connecting maybe a couple of laptops and maybe a smartphone at one time. But today devices seeking an active WiFi connection are numerous as our homes and offices fill with ultrabooks, tablets, smartphones, and you can expect even more to come with Smart TVs, smart watches, and smart-everything hits the market in the years ahead. So it’s now more important to focus on quality of signal and increase the number of devices that can be reliably supported at one time.

Anyone who’s gone to a conference full of tech-savvy attendees can attest to the fact that WiFi just isn’t very reliable once you suddenly have hundreds or thousands of devices seeking to get online. Networking technology 802.11ac can help change that.

WiFi-beamDiagrams
A Netgear digram visually explains the difference between traditional WiFi and the beamforming technology in 802.11ac.

The 802.11ac provides 1.35 Gigabytes a second at highest theoretical speed. Also, the method by which the signal is beamed to your wireless devices has changed. Instead of broadcasting a WiFi signal in a broad and even distribution throughout a home or office, the signal is precisely targeted at wireless devices. Dubbed “beamforming,” it promises to reduce on dropped signals. The new standard uses twice the bandwidth as was available in the previous standard, 802.11n, and can support multiple users thanks to including more antennae and new multiple input multiple output (MIMO) technology.

Here’s a few 802.11ac routers to look for on the market if you’re shopping for a wireless network upgrade:

  • D-Link DIR-850L – Wireless AC1200 Dual Band Gigabit Router: Offers wireless speeds of up to 1300 Mbps on the 5 GHz band, and a 2.4 GHz band for also pretty fast 450 Mbps. D-Link calls its beamforming ability “AC SmartBeam” and you’ll also get four wired ports, a USB 3.0 port, and it’s backward compatible with older WiFi standards. $99.99
  • D-Link DIR-868L – The upgraded version of the router feature six internal antennae for more reliable connections. You can also manage your network and share media files and documents using a suite of mobile apps offered by D-Link. $169.99.
  • Netgear R6300v2 Smart WiFi Router: Similarly fast to the D-Link routers (those speeds are just determined by the standard), and also has a mobile app for network management. There’s two USB 2.0 ports and a “push to connect” button for easy device setup. Offers five wired ports. $199.99 USD

 

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