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Next-gen Wi-Fi: what can it do for you and how to get it?

We’re all used to having Wi-Fi in our homes, but the next generation of the technology could really take things to the next level.

802.11ac, dubbed 5G Wi-Fi, promises even faster wireless connections, better reliability and it’ll even use less power to boot. Range will also be increased, so you can use your devices even further away from your front door or at the bottom of your garden.

Why bother with 5G?

The big advantage over existing 802.11g and 802.11n networks is that it should be far better for high-end online gaming and HD video streaming. Currently even the best Wi-Fi can struggle with several HD video streams and, as our demands for online and streamed media increase, so will our want for reliability. 802.11ac will provide this.

The fastest current 802.11n Wi-Fi can reach speeds of around 150Mbps with one antenna, 300Mbps with two and 450Mbps with three antennas – how many antenna you have depends on the type of router you have (you can usually tell by cost, though that isn’t the whole story).

802.11ac is about three times faster – so that’s means speeds of 450Mbps, 900Mbps and 1.3Gbps respectively; quite remarkable.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that all these speeds are theoretical; you won’t actually reach that amount of throughput, while things also depend on what other wireless devices you’ve got in your home and other networks in your surrounding area.

Routers and antennas

802.11ac routers will be able to use more antennas than today’s 802.11n routers: as many as eight antennas could be inside your next device depending on the level of device you choose to buy.

Older wireless routers – those of 802.11n and older standards – use the 2.4GHz spectrum. 802.11ac will use the 5GHz spectrum, so there will be less chance of interference.

Your microwave, cordless phone and other domestic wireless devices all work using signals in the 2.4GHz spectrum band, so it is pretty crowded. The move to 5GHz should ease this.

And there’s more special technology inside the new 802.11c routers too. They will also be using special directional transmission and reception technology which is known as beamforming. This means that the router can sense devices around it and strengthen the appropriate antennae for best reception. The new kit will also work with older 802.11g and 802.11n kit.

When can i get it?

So when is it available? We’re beginning to see the first routers emerge from the likes of Netgear and Buffalo and we’ll see more emerge throughout the year. Pricing is going to be expensive to start with, around the £200 mark, though this will drop as the year goes on.

However, we don’t expect it to become commonplace for at least a couple of years from now – expect free routers you get with broadband connections to be 802.11n standard for a while yet.

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