• Q&A: NETGEAR ANZ VP Brad Little on the future of Wi-Fi, 802.11ac

    We are consuming more data than ever before and with a larger demand for mobile connections, new technology is arriving with wider range and faster transfer speeds.

    One of these is a faster Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac. Already appearing in Apple’s latest MacBook Airs and Time Capsules, it has a big chance of appearing in the next-generation of MacBook Pro and Mac Pro computers.

    So, what is 802.11ac?

    Thankfully NETGEAR Australia and New Zealand vice president and managing director, Brad Little was able to answer a few of our questions.

    When do you think 802.11ac will be ratified?

    It’s difficult to say exactly when 802.11ac will be officially ratified, although I’d expect it will likely be during 2015. The good news is that there is no reason people have to wait to adopt the technology.

    802.11ac networking equipment is ‘backwards compatible’ with current wireless standards, and offers significantly higher speeds. As more and more 802.11ac compatible ‘client devices’ such as the latest MacBook Air begin to filter onto the market, the technology is becoming widely used in Australian homes even though it is not yet officially ratified.

    What are the advantages of 802.11ac?

    As Australians become increasingly reliant on mobile devices, they need a strong connection in every corner of the home. For this reason, the main advantage of 802.11ac is increased speed and range, which go hand in hand. An 802.11ac connection enables you to use Wi-Fi in places you haven’t been able to before, like the backyard, balcony or garage. To get the full value of greater reach, you need strong speeds, not just one bar of Wi-Fi. With 802.11ac, the speeds are so fast you can easily enjoy bandwidth-heavy content like online gaming or HD video anywhere in the house.

    A flow-on effect of this is the impact it has on the battery life of devices. 802.11ac can send and receive data much more efficiently than current networking equipment, so rather than spending three minutes downloading a file, it now takes a fraction of that time. By spending less time active and processing, devices can conserve far more power than previously possible.

    Also important is the capacity afforded by 802.11ac. In Australia at the moment, the average home has 10 connected devices, and by 2015 this number is expected to grow to more than 20. The previous standard, 802.11n, was good at handling a couple of devices, but 802.11ac takes it to the next level, with the processing horsepower to handle all these devices operating at once.

    Any disadvantages?

    The cost of upgrading to a new 802.11ac router or modem router is higher than that of other networking equipment. That said, for most people a router is a long-term investment, so the ‘future-proof’ nature of the 802.11ac standard makes it a wise choice for someone looking to purchase a new router. Additionally, with so many mobile devices now operating in the average home, many Australians are realising that now is a good time to take the step to next-generation home Wi-Fi.

    How dramatic are the wireless range and speed increases?

    The speed and range of 802.11ac networks are up to three times faster than other current networking equipment. In our day-to-day lives, three times faster is a huge amount. It takes the frustration out of browsing and buffering, and brings the home network to another level where not only are delays a thing of the past, but you can easily stream and browse on multiple devices at once.

    How does 802.11ac compare to wired connections?

    At the moment, a wired connection will still be more robust than an 802.11ac connection, but the challenge is that wired connections do not offer the flexibility or mobility of a wireless network. With so many of us now doing most of our browsing on a smartphone or tablet, it is no longer realistic to rely on a wired connection in the home. The more we come to expect our online experiences to occur on mobile devices, the more wired connections just won’t cut it any more.

    Is the integration of the technology in Apple devices going to have a significant impact on the number of other tech companies using 802.11ac?

    There is no doubt all the major consumer tech companies are realising the importance of equipping their devices with 802.11ac technology, and Apple has done a great job of getting on the front foot with this. Apple is definitely aware of how important fast wireless is becoming and, as a result, the company has been talking about 802.11ac for quite some time. Apple was one of the first big consumer technology companies to roll out 802.11ac-compatible devices on a mass scale.

    Do you think it is a good move from Apple to include 802.11ac in its next iPhone?

    It will not be long before the ‘smart connected home’, in which everything powered by electricity is connected to the internet, becomes a reality. For this vision to play out, it is clear that strong wireless home networks are only set to become more important. If the next iPhone incorporates 802.11ac, it will definitely do a lot to future-proof the device from a networking perspective.

    Do you think the integration of AirDrop in iOS 7 played any part in integrating 802.11ac in the next iPhone?

    I’d say it might actually be the other way around. Rich file-sharing applications like AirDrop require a strong Wi-Fi connection in order to offer consumers the seamless user experience they have come to expect. The greater speeds offered by the 802.11ac standard have made it possible for companies like Apple to embed this kind of application into their devices.

    When do you think the technology will become commonplace? What percentage of the current tech line-up is using this technology?

    802.11ac adoption is growing extremely fast, especially when you consider that it is only recently that client devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops have begun to support the technology. People are definitely realising that if they have to update their networking equipment, it is worthwhile to spend a little extra to get a future-proofed home network.

    How long do you think it will be until 802.11n becomes unsupported?

    While 802.11ac outperforms the previous standard by a long shot, the previous standard, 802.11n, will be around for a while yet. There are still a lot of people with only basic connectivity needs, and of course there are legacy devices that don’t support 802.11ac. For now, there is still definitely a need in the market for a lower cost entry-level network like 802.11n.

    However, 802.11ac will be where all the growth is in the future, especially because it is backward compatible with older devices, and offers such an improved connectivity experience to the user.

    Will Apple users need to update all aspects of their home networks?

    Because 802.11ac is backwards compatible with previous wireless standards, Apple users can start using it with their current home networks and will see noticeable benefits straight away. If they want to experience the full benefits possible on the 802.11ac standard, then updating other elements of the network will also help. However, the most important thing in the home network is to have a good, strong router, so upgrading this is definitely the first step.

    Why would someone upgrade their technology? Is it worth it?

    802.11ac is increasingly important in the context of Australia’s growing desire for mobility and consumption of online video. With Australian households now likely to have more than 10 connected devices, more people require the flexibility and freedom of a strong connection throughout the home. For these people, 802.11ac is definitely a good investment. At NETGEAR, we believe the smart connected home is the way of the future, and 802.11ac is going to be a driving force in enabling us to be truly connected all of the time.

    Does NETGEAR have products on the market already with 802.11ac capability?

    NETGEAR was first to market with 802.11ac networking equipment in 2012. Our growing 802.11ac range now includes two routers, two modem routers and a USB adapter used to upgrade your existing laptop or desktop to 802.11ac. We are seeing huge growth in this exciting space, and it is very much where we will continue to innovate in our technology.
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