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Networking

New Wi-Fi standard promises to speed up your wireless

Products that meet the new standard will have expanded high-speed features, such as MU-MIMO, quad-stream and faster channels.

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The Wi-Fi Alliance certifies the compliance and interoperability of various Wi-Fi standards.

Wi-Fi Alliance

The Wi-Fi Alliance, a body that certifies Wi-Fi products to enable interoperability, has expanded the "Wi-Fi CERTIFIED ac" certification program to include features for faster performance.

This program, announced Wednesday, will now include features called "Wave 2" for newer and future AC network products.

What does that mean for you? Any new AC product you buy bearing the certificate's seal has been tested to deliver these features, as outlined in the announcement:

  • MU-MIMO: Networks with MU-MIMO are capable of multitasking by sending data to multiple devices at once rather than one at a time, improving overall network efficiency and throughput.
  • 160MHz channels: Now up to 160MHz channels are certified (up from 80MHz), allowing for higher Wi-Fi speeds.
  • Four spatial streams (aka quad-stream or 4x4): The more streams, the faster the the wireless connection. Prior to this, three-stream (3x3) was the fastest certified speed -- now quad-stream is also certified, paving the way for devices to support this level of speed.
  • Extended 5GHz channel support: The larger the channel, the less likely it will be that Wi-Fi signals collide, resulting in less interference and higher actual real-world speed. The extended channel of the 5GHz frequency band is now certified.

Of all these features, the MU-MIMO (short for Multi-User Multi-Input Multi-Output) is the most anticipated and most significant, since it allows Wi-Fi devices of different Wi-Fi grades to each connect at their stop speed without slowing each other down.

MU-MIMO, as well as other features of Wave 2, have been available in many routers currently on the market, such as the Linksys EA8500, or the Netgear R8500, but only in draft or non-activated form. After today, these routers can be upgraded, via firmware, to fully support the final version.

According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, currently more than 68 percent of devices are dual-band, operating in both 2.4 and 5GHz, with many of them supporting 802.11ac, which is capable of delivering wireless speed faster than Gigabit Ethernet. It's expected that by 2020, 95 percent of devices will support dual-band and in the next five years, most Wi-Fi access points will support Wave 2 Wi-Fi.

Editor's note (June 13, 2017): Updated with additional attribution.