New WiFi Features Promise Greater Speeds, Performance

The Wi-Fi Alliance unveils its certification for 802.11ac Wave 2 devices, with features like MU-MIMO that could improve speeds by up to three times.

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WiFi connectivity is about to get faster.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has officially unveiled its certification for 802.11ac Wave 2, which officials said will deliver greater speeds, more capacity and greater efficiency to WiFi networks. That will become increasingly important as the Internet of things (IoT)—with its growing numbers of connected home appliances, mobile devices, TVs and other consumer and commercial systems—continues to expand and put more pressure on wireless networks for greater performance.

There are already 802.11ac Wave 2-based devices on the market, but the Wi-Fi Alliance's expansion of its Wi-Fi Certified ac certification program means that systems and devices carrying the 802.11ac Wave 2 label will need to include the new features in the standard and that they'll be interoperable.

"In today's world, people have more WiFi devices per person and per household, and those devices require significantly more bandwidth," Wi-Fi Alliance President and CEO Edgar Figueroa said in a statement, adding that the updated certification program meets "increasing user demands" and helps to "stay ahead of emerging applications, while preserving interoperability."

The key new feature in 802.11ac Wave 2 is multi-user multiple input, multiple output (MU-MIMO), which will enable more devices to run at the same time on the same network without degrading performance or speed, alliance officials said. Wireless access points currently receive and transmit data to a single device at a time, switching rapidly from one device to another. With MU-MIMO, an access point or router will be able to send data to multiple devices at the same time, improving throughput and efficiency.

There also are other features that come with 802.11ac Wave 2, including the doubling of maximum channel bandwidth from 80MHz channels to 160MHz channels, which could double transmission speeds, alliances officials said. In addition, devices with the updated certification will have to include support for four spatial streams—up from three spatial streams—which is important because device speeds increase as the number of spatial streams increase.

The new features also include extended 5GHz channel support. According to the alliance, more than 65 percent of WiFi devices are dual-band, operating at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. That number will increase to 96 percent of devices by 2020, officials said.

Combined, these new features will have a significant impact on WiFi performance, alliance officials said. Devices that support all of them will be capable of hitting speeds that are three times faster than those systems that support only the original 802.11ac features, they said.

Within the next five years, the majority of access points will support the features, alliance officials said.

While there already are 802.11ac Wave 2 devices on the market, the first to be certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance—and the ones that are being used in the test bed for interoperability certification—are Broadcom's BCM94709R4366AC access point, Marvell's Avastar 88W8964 WiFi chipset, MediaTek's MT7615 access point reference design and MT6632 STA reference design, Qualcomm's IPQ8065 router and Quantenna's QSR1000 WiFi chipset.

In addition, officials with vendors like Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Cisco Systems, Huawei Technologies and Imagination Technologies said their products also will support the new features.