next-gen wi-fi tech

Deal with your de­mand­ing net­work­ing needs

Mac Format - - CONTENTS -

There’s a great deal of jar­gon sur­round­ing Wi-Fi and routers, which can be quite con­fus­ing when you’re look­ing at up­grad­ing to the lat­est and great­est

net­work­ing tech. How­ever, there are a few key fea­tures you should look out for if you want to im­prove the speed and re­li­a­bil­ity of your home’s Wi-Fi net­work.

The cur­rent ver­sion of Wi-Fi used by most re­cent home routers is called 802.11ac, although there are still many peo­ple us­ing routers based on the older 802.11n stan­dard. Routers that use 802.11n have a max­i­mum speed of 450Mbps (megabits per sec­ond), whereas 802.11ac steps right up to 1.3Gbps (gi­ga­bits per sec­ond) – an ob­vi­ous im­prove­ment that makes it worth up­grad­ing.

All 802.11ac routers also pro­vide ‘dual-band’ fea­tures that al­low them to trans­mit data on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz fre­quen­cies. That’s im­por­tant, as the 2.4GHz band­width has be­come in­creas­ingly crowded in re­cent years, so us­ing the 5GHz band can help to re­duce the in­ter­fer­ence that comes from that.

Mind you, 802.11ac it­self is still a work in progress, and routers such as BT’s Home Hub 5 and Ap­ple’s Air­Port Ex­treme are ac­tu­ally known as ‘802.11ac Wave 1’. These Wave 1 routers can use mul­ti­ple an­ten­nas to trans­mit mul­ti­ple sig­nals si­mul­ta­ne­ously in or­der to im­prove the over­all rate of data trans­fer. This tech­nique is called SU-MIMO, mean­ing ‘sin­gle-user, multi-in/multi-out’. The ‘sin­gle-user’ bit means that the router can only trans­mit data to a sin­gle de­vice at a time – which might sound a bit odd as most of us tend to have mul­ti­ple de­vices on­line at once.

your Mac­Book, then turn its at­ten­tion to grandma on Skype, and then quickly back to Netflix again. You might not have too much trou­ble if you’re just us­ing those two de­vices on their own, but throw a cou­ple of smart­phones and a games con­sole into the mix and ev­ery­thing will start to slow down as your router strug­gles to jug­gle data be­tween all those dif­fer­ent de­vices.

Wave 2 routers, in­clud­ing the new BT Smart Hub, use more ad­vanced MU-MIMO, or ‘multi-user, multi-in/multi-out’. This lets the router trans­mit sep­a­rate sig­nals to mul­ti­ple de­vices si­mul­ta­ne­ously, for bet­ter per­for­mance and re­li­a­bil­ity when sev­eral de­vices are com­pet­ing for a slice of Wi-Fi.

Wave 2 routers can pro­vide greater speed, too. The fastest we’ve seen so far is Net­gear’s R7800 router, which can reach up to 2.53Gbps, although its forth­com­ing R8500 claims to go as fast as 5.3Gbps. These high-end routers are de­signed for de­mand­ing ap­pli­ca­tions such as gam­ing and stream­ing video that de­mand re­ally high per­for­mance. How­ever, the In­ter­net of Things (IoT) is bring­ing new de­vice types into our homes, of­ten with dif­fer­ent re­quire­ments.

Halow, Halow

De­vices such as se­cu­rity cam­eras and ther­mostats don’t re­quire su­per­fast speeds, but they need to be power-ef­fi­cient as they gen­er­ally run 24 hours a day, and of­ten off bat­ter­ies. With that in mind, the next step in Wi-Fi evo­lu­tion is 802.11ah, or Wi-Fi Halow.

In­stead of higher speeds, 802.11ah adds the abil­ity to trans­mit on fre­quen­cies be­low 1GHz, which don’t need very much power. These lower fre­quen­cies also pro­vide longer range, so you can use your smart de­vices all around your home, or in larger build­ings such as schools and of­fices. 802.11ah isn’t due un­til early 2017, and it al­ready faces com­pe­ti­tion for con­trol of the In­ter­net of Things.

Some de­vices opt for ri­val tech­nolo­gies known as ZigBee and Z-Wave. TP-Link has an­nounced a router, the SR20, de­signed for home au­to­ma­tion that’ll com­bine stan­dard 802.11ac Wi-Fi with sup­port for both of these.

Mean­while, there’s a more specialised form of Wi-Fi in the works: WiGig, or 802.11ad. This will op­er­ate at 60GHz, and is fairly short range but very fast, mak­ing it use­ful for 4K video ser­vices and vir­tual re­al­ity games, which need re­ally high speeds but only need to stream to one or two nearby de­vices, such as a games con­sole or some fu­ture Ap­ple TV. We’ve al­ready heard of a WiGig router from TP-Link, the Talon AD7200. More in­ter­est­ing are ru­mours the iPhone 7 will in­clude WiGig for stream­ing your 4K video record­ings.

WiGig will pro­vide very fast speeds, mak­ing it suited to data-in­ten­sive ap­pli­ca­tions such as 4K video stream­ing.

802.11ac Wave 2 routers will bet­ter sup­port mul­ti­ple fam­ily mem­bers be­ing able to do dif­fer­ent stuff on­line at the same time.

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