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Know The Lingo — What Is 802.11AC?

By: , CTS-D
Technology Evangelist — C2G

Technical lingo is a kind of shorthand that's used to express concepts common to that specific topic or area of study. Technical lingo is important because it provides a very precise or unique "shorthand" description of a device, effect or concept. Unfortunately, if you aren't comfortable and familiar with the lingo of a topic it can be a tall hurdle to communicate efficiently with folks who consider the jargon of their field to be "self-explanatory." In this series of articles we'll lift the veils of misunderstanding from the lingo of the A/V industry.

WHAT IS 802.11AC?

Almost everyone even remotely related to the A/V industry instantly recognizes the term "Wi-Fi." We've come to the point where we often conflate Wi-Fi with Internet access. Almost no one carries a Cat5 patch cable to connect to a network access point on a conference room desk, in a hotel room, or at a neighborhood coffee shop. In fact, many of the most compelling and most exciting new products (think tablets, phablets and wearable devices like Google Glass) don't even have the ability to be connected to a wired network. They only live in a Wi-Fi world!

Wi-Fi is a technology that allows devices to exchange data or connect to the internet using radio waves. The Wi-Fi Alliance is a non-profit industry trade association, founded in 1999, whose purpose is to provide unified global guidelines for wireless local area networking through control of the important "Wi-Fi" brand marking. Wireless local area network (WLAN aka Wi-Fi) products that are based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' (IEEE) 802.11 standard, which is a set of medium access control (MAC) and physical layer (PHY) specifications for implementing wireless local area network computer communication in the 2.4, 3.6, 5 and 60GHz frequency bands. The standards are created and maintained by the IEEE LAN/MAN Standards Committee (IEEE 802).

Wi-Fi products operate over radio waves just like radio, television, and even your garage door opener! Radio spectrum is divided into bands by the FCC. AM radio operates in the band from 530KHz to 1610KHz for example. Wi-Fi products operate in 20MHz wide bands centered on either 2.4GHz and 5GHz carrier frequencies. The 2.4GHz carrier can offer longer range carriage and has less trouble moving through walls because it is a lower frequency band. It is also the most used of the Wi-Fi frequency bands and is getting a little "crowded."

There have been five revisions to the 802.11 standard:

  1. September of 1999: The 802.11a was released and operates in the 5GHz band.
  2. September of 1999: The 802.11b was also released, but operates in the 2.4GHz band.
  3. June of 2003: The 802.11g standard was released. It operates in the 2.4GHz band.
  4. October of 2009: The 802.11n standard was released. It improves on previous standards by adding multiple-input/multiple-outputantennas (MIMO). 802.11n operates on both the 2.4GHz and the lesser used 5GHz bands, but support for 5GHz bands is optional. 802.11n is now the predominant configuration for Wi-Fi devices.
  5. December of 2012: The 802.11ac standard was released.

802.11ac is intended to address the changes in the market brought about by two significant market developments. First, mobile applications now demand more bandwidth to handle new video and voice applications. Second, individuals now carry multiple wireless devices, with the average corporate mobile device/user ratio approaching 2.7 devices per person.

802.11ac delivers a number of significant performance advantages over 802.11n devices and capabilities. 802.11ac is capable of offering link speeds ranging from 433 megabits per second (Mbps), all the way through to multiple gigabits per second which may be dozens of times faster than 802.11n. 802.11ac works exclusively in the 5GHz band, where it can occupy a much wider portion of the spectrum (80 or 160MHz), providing a more robust connection. 802.11ac operates in up to eight spatial streams (MIMO) and utilizes a very fancy technology called "beamforming" that improves connectivity range and increases the number of devices that can simultaneously connect.

This white paper is for informational purposes only and is subject to change without notice. C2G makes no guarantees, either expressed or implied, concerning the accuracy, completeness or reliability of the information found in this document.