5G WiFi: The Standard for the Mobile Age

Increasingly, the Internet is moving to mobile devices. In fact, the speed of this migration has even taken social media platforms like Facebook by surprise.

Savvy tech companies will learn from this.

The stratospheric increase in the use of smart phones with sophisticated apps and web browsing abilities means that the platform is quickly reaching (and perhaps soon exceeding) the functional capabilities of current televisions and desktop PCs.

With their high performance processors and large data storage capabilities, smart phones are quickly becoming mini television sets and game players as well as mini computers.

The only significant bottleneck in the system is the wireless connection.

Current wireless standards simply don’t have the bandwidth to handle the applications that users are now expecting – and content providers are close to providing.

As a solution, the 5GWiFi or IEEE 802.11ac standard allows wireless networks keep pace with our constantly expanding use of computers, phones, and tablets, for both work and fun.

The new IEEE 802.11ac is a worldwide standard that offers at least triple the transmission speeds of current Wi-Fi products using IEEE 802.11n.

Even the slowest IEEE 802.11ac connection will be about as fast as a today’s USB 2.0 wired links, which are widely used in external storage and far better than existing wireless data rates.

This means that even on mobile devices, streaming video won’t freeze or sputter and Web downloads won’t slow to a crawl when multiple devices are in use, 5GWiFi provides a technology to ensure that the user experience is everything they expect.

30% of Americans can’t go one hour without Wi-Fi

Some surprising results from a Broadcom survey of 900 Americans:

  • 30% cannot go one full hour without a Wi-Fi connection
  • 60% cannot go one full day without Wi-Fi access before seeking a connection

I was trying to think of the last time I went a full day without checking my email – if you don’t count 26 hours of internet-free travel from San Francisco to Singapore two years ago, I believe it was in 2006 when I went to the Mayan Pyramids in Guatemala and there was no power for roughly 20 hours per day. My obsession with connectivity might be a little sad, but at least I know I’m not alone!

What you have to keep in mind here is that people are used to an always-on internet connection, whether that’s over Wi-Fi or cellular data networks. This is where 5G WiFi comes in: not only does it increase the capacity of existing Wi-Fi networks to support the exponential growth of smartphones, but it also allows cellular carriers to seamlessly offload customers from their limited spectrum to the vast expanses of the 5 GHz band.

With total wireless cellular penetration exceeding 100% in the United States, it won’t be that long before 100% of Americans will be unable to go a full day without Wi-Fi access.

NETGEAR Unveils 5G WiFi Routers and Notebook Adapter

At a joint event with Broadcom in San Francisco today, NETGEAR announced the first 802.11ac adapter for notebooks, and showed two versions of routers.

The A6200 WiFi Adapter is the first USB 802.11ac-based adapter on the market for client devices like notebook computers. The A6200 notebook adapter docks to client devices using a USB 2.0 port. It’s expected to cost about $69 and will ship in August.

David Henry, vice president of product management for NETGEAR, told a crowd of reporters that the high-end, three-stream R6300 is available online Thursday for the previously announced price of $199.99 and is expected to be available in retail stores by the end of the week.

NETGEAR also unveiled the R6200, a two-stream, mid-range version of the R6300 that will retail for about $179.99 beginning in July.

aLL devices use Broadcom 5G WiFi chips to deliver up to 1,300 Mbps speeds on the 5 GHz band, plus additional coverage in the earlier 2.4 GHz band for combined performance well above the Gigabit range.

Both the adapter and routers are backward compatible with previous Wi-Fi routers and clients.

Michael Hurlston, senior vice president at Broadcom, said he expects that 802.11ac technology will be integrated into PCs during the third quarter of this year, followed by televisions in the fourth quarter, and finally mobile phones in early 2013, largely due to their differing development cycles.

Earlier this week, BuffaloTechnology shipped its first 5G WiFi router.

Entrepreneur Sees Benefits of 5G-WiFi

5G WiFi Drives New Opportunities

A recent article by Steward Wolpin in Entrepreneur.com does a great job of highlighting emerging WiFi technology, and in particular the new 5G WiFi (802.11ac).

Wolpin, a New York City-based writer who has been covering technology for more than 30 years, correctly notes that among the biggest benefits of these new Wi-Fi technologies will be a greatly increased ability to wirelessly connect business environments.

“Wi-Fi as you know it will begin to evolve over the next few months, changing how businesses stay connected,” he writes.

“Today’s fastest Wi-Fi protocol is 802.11n, or just “n,” which provides theoretical data transfer speeds of around 300 megabits per second (Mbps),” notes Wolpin. “Up next on the Wi-Fi speed chart is 802.11ac, alternately called “gigabit,” Very High Throughput Wi-Fi or fifth-generation (5G) Wi-Fi. By any name, 802.11ac Wi-Fi is expected to offer speeds of up to 1300 Mbps — potentially more than four times faster than current “n” routers and about 1,000 times faster than 4G LTE connectivity.”

It should be pointed out that some of the performance comparisons made vis-a-vis 4G LTE are not accurate ; in actual conditions, for example, 5G WiFi is expected to be about 6 times faster than 4G LTE.

Still, the point is well taken. 5G WiFi offers the fastest available wireless download speeds, which is important in environments where large file transfers are common.

At the same time, he notes that 5G  WiFi delivers another equally important benefit: a “relatively vacant” channel.

“Instead of operating in the crowded 2.4 GHz frequencies along with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and wireless communication gadgets, 802.11ac Wi-Fi will transmit data in the relatively vacant 5 GHz spectrum,” writes Wolpin.

In addition, he noted,these and other improvements are expected to create speedier, more consistent wireless links further from the router with fewer dead spots and greater ability to penetrate walls.”

For businesses, all of this means more reliable in-office wireless connectivity, which ultimately means businesses can “reduce or eliminate the need for complex and expensive wired broadband connections”.

For workers using portable devices, this also means speedier downloads via 5FWi-Fi and a resulting increase battery life as well.

Other emerging WiFi technologies highlighted in the article include Hotspot 2.0 (also known as Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint), which enables autonomous connection of wireless devices wherever you go; and Super Wi-Fi, which uses so-called TV white space, unused over-the-air spectrum recently approved by the FCC for commercial use. These lower frequencies allow wider and more powerful wireless signal propagation, said Wolpin, adding that, “An indoor Super Wi-Fi 40 mW transmitter creates a Wi-Fi hotspot up to five times the range of current Wi-Fi hotspots. In other words, a hotspot blanketing more than 1,000 feet would be enough to cover a small business office with a single router.”

Well, this is exciting…

The first 5G WiFi product has been announced: the NETGEAR R6300 will ship with Broadcom’s 3×3 802.11ac/5G WiFi chip next month at a low, low price of about $200.

If you were so inclined to try out 5G WiFi, you could buy two units and use them for bridging – essentially, you could use the second unit to extend the range over which you could achieve the highest data synchronization rates.  Normally, your 11n throughput would be reduced because the bridge needs to maintain two links (one to your PC; one to the router.) But with the two routers completing transactions more quickly using 802.11ac, there would be more time left over for the bridge to connect to your PC using 802.11n. Or if you wanted to be the first person on your block to demonstrate 5G WiFi’s maximum speeds, you could go back to what I did in the dawn of Wi-Fi and plug an ethernet cable directly into the bridge router and use it as a very large external wireless card on your PC.

In the near-term, there will be many more 5G WiFi devices on the market, ranging from smartphones to tablets to 5G-enabled laptops and television sets.  You’ll be able to do data synchronization at up to 1300 Mbps, which would be a huge improvement relative to today’s automatic wireless backup devices – mine averages about 40 Mbps, and when I transfer data between legacy 802.11g devices through the router, it didn’t even hit 3 Mbps.  When I want to copy a video onto my current phone, it can take hours; 5G WiFi will reduce this to a matter of minutes.

You’ll also see a significant improvement in your media streaming experience.  Not only will you be able to transfer video from media devices to your PC or phone more quickly, but you’ll see much better performance when you’re actually sharing that video onto an HDTV.  Broadcom’s 5G WiFi chipsets have numerous features that not only extend the range of the highest Wi-Fi data rates, but also reduce the impact of signal fading, which eliminates the periodic video skipping and loss of fidelity that I’ve become so used to when watching TV over the internet.

As with most new technologies, it’s difficult to predict how people will use 5G WiFi once it’s in the marketplace. But as the guy who didn’t see the point of Wi-Fi in the first place, I’m expecting to find out about a whole bunch of different use cases that I never expected.

5G WiFi Standard is Going Global

The life of a successful communications standard goes through four phases: development by a standards group; approval by regulatory bodies; implementation by hardware and software vendors; and acceptance by the user community. Much of this work can be done in overlapping fashion, to accelerate the standard’s time to market.

In the case of the 5G WiFi (IEEE 802.11ac) standard, development is nearly complete and implementation is beginning. Importantly, approval by regulatory bodies must be achieved to ensure that the largest possible number of users have access to the standard.

Many of our readers wished to understand where 5G WiFi stands with respect to spectrum availability around the world. We interviewed Vinko Erceg, Technical Director of Systems Design Engineering in Broadcom’s Mobile & Wireless Communications division & the Chair of the Wi-Fi Alliance Technical Task Group launching the 802.11ac certification program to get the answers. He has been helping with the drive to secure regulatory approval for 802.11ac around the world.

Erceg noted that companies such as Broadcom, Intel, Marvell, Qualcomm Atheros and others have reached out to regulatory agencies seeking approval for the standard.  This means clearing the 80MHz, 160MHz, and 80+80MHz bandwidths in countries around the world.

“Not every place is cleared yet, but we expect that by the end of the year, we should be able to get approval by most of the countries we are talking with,” said Erceg.

Countries and regions that have already approved or are close to approving the standard include the Brazil, China, the European Union, India, Singapore, Taiwan and the United States.

Others that are expected to approve spectrum for 5G WiFi in coming quarters include Argentina, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, the Ukraine and Venezuela.

Edimax announces two new 5G WiFi consumer products

The emerging 5G WiFi (802.11ac) wireless communications standard got a new boost this week when Taiwanese electronics maker Edimax announced it will roll out a new family of wireless communications devices. According to VR-Zone and others, Edimax is unveiling a networking duo including a wireless 5G WiFi (802.11ac) router and a USB adapter.

The Edimax router and wireless USB dongle and similar devices are slated for production in the next few months, marking early entries into the 5G WiFi market for router-to-PC or router-to-laptop connectivity. Later devices are expected to replace the USB dongle with 5G WiFi connectivity embedded directly into the computing platforms.

The Edimax router uses a Broadcom 600 MHz Intensi-fi MIPS32 central processor with two WLAN modules: the Broadcom BCM4331 for 802.11 b/g/n in the 2.40 GHz band, and a Broadcom BCM4360 supporting 5G WiFi for network bandwidths up to 1.30 Gbps. The wired LAN interface includes a one gigabit uplink port and four gigabit downstream ports. The device also includes two PCI-Express interfaces, a built-in USB 2.0 host controller, and DDR2 memory controller.

The Edimax USB dongle is one of the industry’s first to support 5G WiFi. The dongle uses Broadcom BCM43526 chip, and offers dual-band operation.

Broadcom’s 5G WiFi technology features beam-forming technology, which assists 5G WiFi enabled devices by streaming or steering content in the direction of the intended receiver, thereby increasing reliability, extending range and providing better coverage.

Times I Wished I had 5G WiFi and 4G LTE

I don’t usually work in a coffee shop – I don’t like not being able to charge my laptop, and my “home office” is the living room couch, with multiple computers strewn in front of me while I watch sports on TV – but on a recent nice and sunny day, I was convinced to go to one. Unfortunately, technical difficulties abounded. I waited in line, bought a drink and asked for the Wi-Fi password. I spent a few minutes trying to log in to various access points with no success – it turned out that my (brand new) machine could not see the coffee shop’s router.

Luckily, all was not lost. I fired up “Mobile Hotspot” on my LTE phone and, in less than a minute, connected my laptop to the internet using the phone’s software-based “Soft AP.”  The only downside? My phone only lets me run “Mobile Hotspot” on Channel 6 in the noisy 2.4 GHz band – I’m sure that’s to prevent some crazy harmonic of the LTE phone transmitter from interacting with the Wi-Fi chip in the phone, but it was certainly inconvenient where I was sitting because there were at least a half-dozen access points set to Channel 6. In fact, I’m pretty sure Channel 6 is the most commonly-used Wi-Fi channel in the United States. So my data rates were in the range of 10 Megabits per second – probably better than I would have had if I had been able to connect to the coffee shop Wi-Fi, but not that great.

You probably know where I’m going: this is one of those times I wish I had 5G WiFi to go with my 4G LTE phone. When I use the internet directly on my phone, I’ve been able to get upwards of 25 Mbps in some places using first-generation LTE. If I had 5G WiFi, I’d have a lot more bandwidth to work with and fewer interferers, so I could get my full LTE data rate on my PC. And future LTE networks will likely offer significantly higher data rates, way more than I got at home with DSL and more than I can get with a cable modem. (I’ll never be able to get fiber to my house, so those are my choices.) In fact, with LTE routers becoming more common, they might become an alternative to cable modems – they take a matter of minutes to set up rather than having to wait for days or weeks for someone to come to your house to install the system!

Times I Wished I had 5G WiFi: Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, despite being immersed in technology all day long, I’m actually a bit of a Luddite. Case in point: I needed to transfer 3 GB of data between two of the (seven) computers in my house.

For data transfers like this, I could use a USB flash drive, but I’m always lending them out or losing them, so I couldn’t find any. So I moved on to the next option: an external USB hard drive that I use to backup my data.  It’s fairly slow, so it might have taken half an hour to copy from the first PC to it, and then another half hour to copy to the second machine from the drive. That’s the best case. The much worse case is what actually happened: the source machine is old and some of its USB ports don’t work. When I plugged the drive in, the PC couldn’t recognize the hard drive partition where I could store the data.

So then I had a brilliant idea: transfer over Wi-Fi. All it took to get started was me figuring out how to share a folder on the destination machine. The new machine supports peer-to-peer Wi-Fi, but the old one doesn’t seem to, so the data transfer had to go through my 802.11g router (I told you I was a Luddite.) After just four hours, the transfer was complete, for an average data rate of…less than 3 Mbps.

That’s just sad. My PCs were both close to the router, so that wouldn’t have slowed them down. But with two machines not optimized for data transfer and five other devices (plus the microwave oven) competing for the same channel on my router, the results were awful.

Here’s where I wish I had 5G WiFi. Not only would the data transfer have been faster – both because it would be peer-to-peer and a higher data rate – but it would have been more obvious how to do it. What do I mean? You often can’t tell what the value of a particular technology is before it’s launched – ten years ago, I didn’t even see the point of Wi-Fi. I mean, who needs Wi-Fi when you can just pull hundreds of feet of cable through your walls and ceiling and connect your desktop into an ethernet wall socket? So once you have 5G WiFi-enabled machines, your operating system will support wireless data transfer in a much more obvious way than it does today. And I think that’s true of many 5G WiFi features – we can’t imagine them yet, but once the technology is available, people will figure out all kinds of new and interesting things to do with it.

5G WiFi – Standard of Standards

One of our readers asked, “Would my 5G WiFi device work with my other Wi-Fi devices? Also, will my 5G WiFi router work with other devices that implement 802.11ac?”

The answer to both questions is YES.

5G WiFi is a holistic wireless experience. It not only provides the user with the speeds and reliability of 802.11ac, but is entirely backward compatible with existing Wi-Fi devices. As an example, today’s smartphones that predominantly use 802.11n Wi-Fi will be able to communicate with a 5G WiFi router seamlessly, but at 802.11n rates. Let us assume a home network with a 5G WiFi router, a 5G WiFi enabled PC, and an 802.11n smartphone. The 5G WiFi router is smart enough to talk to the 802.11n smartphones at lower speeds while communicating with the 5G WiFi PC at the faster 802.11ac rates.

Additionally, 5G WiFi will also be interoperable with devices from various semiconductor vendors. The industry has done well to define 802.11ac as a comprehensive and interoperable standard. This includes standardizing advanced protocols like beamforming that were left open-ended in the previous generation of Wi-Fi. Further, all 5G WiFi products will be compatible with the certification program that the Wi-Fi Alliance will launch in early 2013. This further attests to the interoperability of 5G WiFi products – when other vendors are ready with 802.11ac offerings, they will be interoperable with 5G WiFi products and vice versa. It is also worth noting that the draft standard that 5G WiFi solutions use is very stable and changes [if any] can be addressed easily with no impact on the consumers buying products.

The consumer can also be assured that the transition to 5G WiFi will be smooth unlike the 802.11n days. When 802.11n was launched, vendors implemented different flavors of the standard. As a result, there was market confusion post-launch about the capabilities of various products, and their ability to seamlessly interoperate. This time around, the industry has learned from the negative consumer experiences and has proactively worked to address them. For example, key features that are required for the speeds, range and reliability of 5G WiFi are prescribed clearly, and will be tested by the Wi-Fi Alliance for interoperability. Vendors themselves will be cautious this time around recognizing fully well that the consumer experience is key to the adoption of this next generation of Wi-Fi.

In summary, 5G WiFi will be the STANDARD OF STANDARDS – backward compatible, interoperable, and holistic. It will work.