802.11ac, the fifth generation of WiFi, brings us many new improvements. Is it really worth to throw in the trash your old WiFi equipment and buy new one that runs on the new standard? Let’s go together through its advantaged and disadvantaged, so you can decide.
- Increased speed up to 1.3GHz
- Higher speeds over longer distances
- Less interference with other wireless devices
- Increased number of clients supported by an access point
- Extended battery life
- Beamforming between different vendors
Increased speed is accomplished by
- Wider frequency channels – 80 MHz, later even 160 MHz
- More MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) spatial streams – even up to 8 per access point
- Higher density of modulation – 256-QAM
Higher Speeds Over Longer Distances – Beamforming
The most amazing feature of the 5th generation of WiFi is Beamforming. Instead of radiating omnidirectional signal, wireless router has concentrated transmission so that more data reaches the targeted devices.
The benefits of Beamforming:
- Higher speed
- Extended WiFi coverage and reduction of dead spots
- More stable WiFi connection
- Reduction of interference
Beamforming have also been used in some 802.11n devices, but there is a problem with interoperability. The beamforming in the 5G WiFi has been standardized and it works between different vendors. More about beamforming you could read here.
Since 802.11ac is working on a frequency of 5 GHz, there is less interference with other wireless signals. Previous WiFi versions worked on 2.4 GHz, except 802.11a and some 802.11n. The problem with 2.4 GHz spectrum is that most wireless devices work on that frequency – WiFi, Bluetooth and microwave ovens.
802.11ac Disadvantages :
- Speed is not so high as it is theoretically
- Old 802.11n devices can’t support a new one – Hardware replacement is required
- Higher cost
- All Client devices still don’t support 802.11ac
- Speed and Performance of device can vary for different devices
- Possible problems with interference between other 802.11ac devices
Hard to Reach 1 Giga Speed
The 5th WiFi generation will give you higher speed than older WiFi generations. The theoretical maximum of 1.3 Gbps is very hard to achieve in a real life. It is true that access point can support up to eight data streams. One stream can run at maximum of 433Mbps. The problem is that most clients support only one data stream. There is a wireless adapter that can support more than one data stream, but they need to have bigger antenna.
If you are interested in real gigabit wireless speeds read the article Gigabit Wireless – Wireless Speed of 5 Gbps soon on the Mobile Phones.
Incompatibility with older WiFi versions
Older wireless devices – wireless routers and client adapters can’t be upgraded to 802.11ac. The upgrade can be done only with hardware replacement.
High cost of implementation
The new devices are much more expensive, because they use more advanced technology. If you are using faster wireless client devices, you will need to replace other network devices. If you are having clients running at 1 Gbps, switches, routers, and other network should work on 10 Gbps. The speed of the internet connection needs to be much higher to support the higher speeds in local wireless network. When you take in account all these, the introduction of the new generation of WiFi leads to high implementation costs.
Is it Really Worth to Replace Old WiFi Equipment With the New 802.11ac?
In my opinion, it is not wise to throw in the trash your old WiFi equipment and buy new one. The new equipment is very expensive and is not the perfect choice for the typical home users. The fifth generation of WiFi is made for enterprise users.
In a time, when the prices will be lower, it is a perfect choice for the use of multimedia stored on your NAS – Network Attached Storage. We just need to wait that all client devices – Smartphones, tablets support the 802.11ac.
More about older generations of WiFi you can read on what does WLAN stand for.