Broadcom, NetGear, Others to Show Off 802.11ac Gear at CES

Products supporting the next-generation WiFi standard are expected to find their way onto store shelves later in 2012.

Amid all the hoopla over ultrabooks, tablets and smartphones that should dominate next week's Consumer Electronics Show, products that support the upcoming 802.11ac wireless standard are expected to also make a showing at the event.

Broadcom officials on Jan. 5 announced their official foray into the world of 5G WiFi, unveiling four new WiFi chips that they will feature at CES, which opens Jan. 10 in Las Vegas. At the same time, a host of other vendors, including NetGear and Buffalo Technology, are expected to show off 802.11ac-enable wireless products.

Fueling the demand for the faster and more energy-efficient 802.11ac standard is the rapid growth in the use of wirelessly connected mobile devices and the consumption of online digital content. According to 5GWiFi-an informational Website established by Broadcom-802.11ac-enabled devices will be three times faster and up to six times more energy-efficient than those using the current 802.11n (fourth-generation) standard.

In a Jan. 4 blog on the site, Rahul Patel, vice president of Broadcom's Wireless LAN Connectivity business, said that the use of WiFi is growing-as are the kinds of devices that are connecting to the Internet-generating even more demand for faster capabilities.

"As the appetite for content-rich Internet media consumption and distribution in the home and enterprise grows, the question of adequacy of the current networks for delivering a quality video stream without compromise of the mobility experience remains," Patel wrote. "Further, with more networked WiFi devices than people in the homes today, the question of bandwidth availability also arises."

Broadcom will begin addressing the demand with the four new 802.11ac-enabled chips that will be on display at CES. Officials said that the new chips-the BCM4360, BCM4352, BCM43526 and BCM43516-are designed for a wide range of products that will be filtering out as manufacturers look to build devices to support 802.11ac.

"The exponential growth of digital media and wirelessly connected devices requires faster and more reliable ways to connect anytime, anywhere," Michael Hurlston, senior vice president of Broadcom's Mobile and Wireless Group, said in a statement. "5G WiFi solves this media explosion challenge. Broadcom's vast footprint in consumer electronics devices uniquely positions us to lead the transition to the next generation of WiFi."

Although devices with 802.11n support are still finding their way onto store shelves, industry observers expect the demand for faster wireless capabilities to ramp quickly. While there are few, if any, 802.11ac-capable devices on the market now, the number of products that support the 5G WiFi standard will reach more than 1 billion by 2015, according to market research firm In-Stat.

In a report in early 2011, the In-Stat analysts said the growth will be driven by the demand for more speed. The 802.11ac standard will offer up to 1Gbit network speeds and other key features, they said. In addition, by 2015, all the mobile hotspot shipments will be 802.11ac-enabled, they said.

"The goal of 802.11ac is to provide data speeds much faster than 802.11n, with speeds of around 1G bps," Frank Dickson, vice president of research at In-Stat, said in a statement at the time.

Dickson added that the hope is to have the first 802.11ac products on the market by the end of 2012.

In a statement with the Broadcom announcement, Gartner analyst Mark Hung said he expects WiFi-enabled devices will grow from fewer than 1 billion units in 2010 to more than 3 billion in 2015.

"Given the current constraints of legacy 802.11 standards and the increased speed, capacity, coverage and battery life that 802.11ac offers, this next generation of WiFi is poised for rapid growth across all product segments," Hung said. "802.11ac will be one of the most influential mobile and wireless technologies in the years to come."

Broadcom's announcement came with support from a wide range of vendors that are partnering with the company on its 802.11ac efforts. David Soares, vice president and general manager of NetGear's Retail Business Unit, and Hajime Nakai, a director and board member at Buffalo, also said their companies are working with Broadcom. So is Huawei, according to Chao Li, terminal access general manager for the networking company.

"Huawei's terminal access and networking product lines will incorporate 802.11ac technology in mobile phone and gateway designs," Li said in a statement. "The Huawei R&D team is pleased to be one of Broadcom's 802.11ac early access partners."