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Study: Expect a billion 802.11ac Wi-Fi devices in 2015

The forthcoming 1Gbps wireless network standard is set to begin arriving in products in 2012 and to surge rapidly after that.

The Wi-Fi alliance certifies compliance with various 802.11 standards.
The Wi-Fi alliance certifies compliance with various 802.11 standards. Wi-Fi Alliance

People in the technology world just now adjusting to the arrival of 802.11n should begin bracing themselves for 802.11ac.

For those who can't keep up with the alphanumeric jumbles that are technology standards, 802.11n is at the moment the fastest version of Wi-Fi. The arrival of 802.11n was delayed by interminable standards wrangling--thus the profusion of "Draft N" wireless routers--and research firm In-Stat already predicts its faster successor, 802.11ac, soon will surge into the market.

From zero 802.11ac devices this year and the first ones next year--the standard isn't done yet--the market will blossom to nearly a billion in 2015, In-Stat predicts.

The forthcoming standard, which uses existing radio spectrum in a range below 6GHz, is designed to exceed data-transfer rates of 1 gigabit per second by sending multiple simultaneous streams of data from access points to devices.

"The goal of 802.11ac is to provide data speeds much faster than 802.11n, with speeds of around 1Gbps," said analyst Frank Dickson in a statement. "The timing for 802.11ac approval is to have a draft standard created by 2011 and have the first 802.11ac products out by the end of 2012."

Although those data transfer rates likely will appeal to many folks--companies that want high-speed networks but not the expense of laying cable, for example--home customers should think twice before drooling over the latest wireless router. Although it can be nice to have fast home networks for networked backup and streaming media, most people's broadband connections to the Internet are slower than even older versions of Wi-Fi like 802.11g.

Earlier versions of 802.11 wireless networking standards used the 2.4GHz frequency band, but 802.11n expanded to the 5GHz range as well. It's designed to reach up to 600Mbps. A consortium called the Wi-Fi Alliance certifies 802.11 products and promotes the technology.

Wi-Fi overall continues to thrive. In 2015, about 800 million mobile phones will ship with the technology, In-Stat forecast. The group also projects that 90 percent of electronic e-book readers will come with Wi-Fi by 2015 and that 20 million vehicles will ship with Wi-Fi in 2012.