In the world of technology, a lot can change in just a few years, with new innovations emerging all the time. With users employing a growing number of devices to connect to the Internet while also demanding increasing speed and download capabilities, a lot has changed with the way wireless Internet connections are expected to function.
When the first Wi-Fi certified ac products came onto the scene two years ago, they implemented core features of the IEEE 802.11ac standard. While those products – known as "first wave" 11ac – used more spatial streams, wider channels and higher-density modulation triple the speed of comparable Wi-Fi certified 11n products, the necessary features to meet the standard's full potential of 7 Gbps were left out because the technology was still immature and there were a variety of engineering challenges that had to be overcome before moving forward.
With the rapid development of Internet capabilities and Wi-Fi engineering, the Wi-Fi Alliance has announced that it is currently evaluating features that can be added to the "second wave" 11ac products for an updated certification program that will be available in mid-2016.
What will second wave Wi-Fi have to offer?
In an article for TechTarget, contributor Lisa Phifer noted that the first wave of 11ac products built off of the technology used in products on the IEEE 802.11n standard.
"The first wave of 11ac was built upon the same technologies used by 11n — most notably, multiple input multiple output (MIMO) antennas that transmit data along several spatial streams, optionally combined with double- or quadruple-wide channels to achieve faster data rates," wrote Phifer. "But unlike 11n, 11ac focuses exclusively on 5 GHz band transmission, leaving the congested 2.4 GHz band for use by older, less capable devices and other technologies, such as Bluetooth. Similarly, the second wave of 11ac will build upon the first wave features."
"Second wave Wi-Fi will double capacity and add support for 80 80 and 160 MHz channels."
Just as the first wave doubled the maximum channel width available at the time, second wave will double it again and add support for 80 80 and 160 MHz channels. The amount of spatial streams expected from access points will also grow, rising from three to four transmit and receive streams. While these changes may seem small, they have the potential for major improvements. The enhancements in the second wave Wi-Fi offer the possibility of quadruple the maximum data rates currently available under favorable conditions.
The other big difference with second wave Wi-Fi is the introduction of MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple input output) technology. It offers the ability to dramatically increase the throughput of wireless networks and make a noticeable difference in dense, high capacity networks. Previous wireless standards like 11ac and 11n were able to improve data rates, but only for individual users. MU-MIMO, however, allows for multiple streams to be sent from access points to multiple users simultaneously, creating a greater impact across the network.
"Wi-Fi has always suffered from density and capacity issues, especially in the small and crowded 2.4GHz band," explained Network World contributor Eric Geier. "Using 802.11n or 802.11ac in the 5GHz band helps by providing many more channels and faster data rates. However, MU-MIMO helps even more as multiple devices can be served simultaneously. This leads to increased throughput, frees up more airtime, and allows access points to serve larger crowds of devices."
The first devices featuring second wave Wi-Fi and MU-MIMO are already starting to appear on the market, offering improved capacity for business-class access points and smartphones, as well as laptops and routers.