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What is WiFi 802.11ac and what makes it so fast?

The new 802.11ac WiFi standard aims to give greater speed to your wireless network. Here is how it works and what are its advantages, and some compatible devices and, of course, if it really delivers what it promises.

The WLAN standards regulate the speed and type of data transmission by radio waves. Currently, the standard n (802.11n) is the most common, with speeds ranging from 150 to 600 Mbps. The new technology ac (802.11ac) increases the theoretical speed to 1300 Mbps.

However, the speed attainable in practice is significantly less.

What other advantages offers this standard?

The components used in the standard ac consume less power, which is good for battery-operated devices such as laptops, mobile phones and tablets.

In addition, the ac technology transmits identical data simultaneously, for example a video, using a single data stream.

Does it offer longer range?

Despite the lower operating range (5 GHz band), the ac routers can reach greater distances. It is responsible for the "beam forming" technology that focuses the radio signal.

What makes it so fast?

Wider radio channels: the wider the radio channel, the more "lanes" available, which in turn increases the speed. Instead of using a 40 MHz channel width, AC technology can run at 80 or even 160 MHz.

Moreover, this standard can also operate using "Channel Bonding", that is, combining two separate channels.

Multiple antennas: having more antennas means you have a faster connection. Ac protocol transfer up to six data streams through three antennas.

This is the only way you can reach the maximum speed. The specification of WLAN ac can even include up to four antennas.

The reality of the WiFi speed

  Theorist Real World
802.11g Standard 54 Kbps 23 Kbps
802.11n Standard 450 Kbps 200 Kbps
802.11ac Standard 1300 Kbps 222 Kbps

There are some details to consider, too. The number of antennas determines the speed of the data arriving at the receiver. The maximum speed of WLAN ac (1.3 Gbps in theory, in practice, about 0.2 Gbps) can only be achieved with three antennas.

But many cheap wireless routers, smartphones and USB adapters have only one, so you can only get a third of the maximum speed supported.

WiFi devices ac

For a complete ac speed, both your router and the receiving device must be compatible with this technology. Older devices do work, but with the standard protocols. Here are some compatible devices and this new technology:

Routers: Apple Airport Extreme/Time Capsule, AVM Fritz Box 7490 (from summer) WZRD1800H Buffalo, D-Link 810L-868L, EA6700 Linksys, Netgear 6200/6300, Speed port W724V.

Notebooks: Apple Macbook Air (new version), 17 Alienware, Asus G750. Adapters from Linksys, Netgear and Trendnet are also available.

Smartphones: As for this kind of mobile devices, the first smartphones compatible with the new WLAN technology are the HTC One and also the Samsung Galaxy S4. Also most next-generation high-end smartphones.

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