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IEEE 802.11ac is the fifth generation in Wi-Fi networking standards and will bring fast, highquality video streaming and nearly instantaneous data syncing and backup to the notebooks, tablets, and mobile phones that have become our everyday companions.

Improvements in transmission speeds will be dramatic. Entry-level IEEE 802.11ac products will provide a data rate of 433 Mbps (megabits per second), which is at least three times faster than that of the most common devices using the current wireless standard, which is IEEE 802.11n. Because the new standard gives manufacturers the flexibility to offer a range of products with different levels of performance, some high-speed IEEE 802.11ac devices will offer wireless transmission in excess of a Gigabit per second—remarkable speeds that put IEEE 802.11ac wireless networks ahead of most wired networks.

In addition, there will be dramatic improvements in wireless reliability, range, and coverage. Homes and apartments now plagued with "dead spots" will enjoy vastly improved reception. Faster file transfer also leads to longer battery life in mobile phones.

Products based on IEEE 802.11ac will be fully backward compatible with current Wi-Fi devices. Older devices, however, won't be able to take advantage of the improved speeds offered by IEEE 802.11ac. Home networking products containing IEEE 802.11ac adapters are expected in Q3 2012. They will begin appearing in laptops and notebooks for the Christmas 2012 selling season. Mobile phones and tablets—both crucial Wi-Fi markets—are likely to ship with IEEE 802.11ac chips in 2013.

IEEE 802.11ac is the fifth generation of Wi-Fi to come along since Wi-Fi was introduced in 1997. The roll-out of new IEEE 802.11ac devices, like those of previous generations, is expected to take between one and three years, beginning first with home networking products and then working its way to other products as manufacturing costs decline. By 2015, virtually all new Wi-Fi products are expected to be based on IEEE 802.11ac technology, in the same way that nearly all Wi-Fi products on sale today are based on IEEE 802.11n, which is the current standard.


The modern world has become dependent on Wi-Fi technology. It is available just about everywhere we go—in homes, offices, hotels, restaurants, and sometimes even in the great outdoors.

We seek out wireless connectivity more and more because we're using it more and more—and not just for work and e-mail. We've come to depend on Wi-Fi to stream movies and TV shows to our laptops, to play online games and use social media on our mobile phones, and to read books and watch video on our tablets. Between office work, school assignments, and simple entertainment, the average household often has several Wi-Fi devices running at the same time, downloading rich content at all hours of the day and night.

But the Wi-Fi technology we use today is three years old, and it simply can't keep up with the new demands we are placing on it, just as booming cities with narrow roads and streets cannot handle the increased traffic. And so, a new generation of Wi-Fi technology, known as IEEE 802.11ac, is being introduced to guarantee that our wireless networks keep pace with our constantly expanding use of computers, phones, and tablets, for both work and fun.

Unlike most consumer devices, which have new models once or twice a year, Wi-Fi standards take years to develop, as they require many companies working together on scores of intricate technical issues. Thus, new Wi-Fi systems don't appear that frequently, and when they do, they are important events for the computer and consumer electronics industries. The IEEE 802.11ac standard is only the fifth generation of wireless to come along since Wi-Fi first started to revolutionize our use of computers back in 1997.

The new IEEE 802.11ac is a worldwide standard that will offer at least triple the transmission speeds of current Wi-Fi products using IEEE 802.11n. (It accomplishes this mainly by taking advantage of a new swath of the radio spectrum, which will be explained later.) 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. That means that streaming video won't freeze or sputter, or that Web downloading won't slow to a crawl when more than one family member is using a tablet or mobile phone. What's more, wireless reception will be available in many portions of a house that are now "dead spots" for coverage.

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Download Primer

Download a PDF of IEEE 802.11ac-Wi-Fi for the Mobile and Video Generation


Questions About 802.11ac?

See our FAQ for answers to common questions about 802.11ac technology and more.

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