NETWORKING STANDARDS ARE ALWAYS ADVANCING – HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NEXT-GENERATION TECHNOLOGIES
All of this month’s routers support the current Wi-Fi standards, but technology never stands still for long. Do you need to worry about your new router becoming obsolete? Here’s our guide to three emerging network standards, and what they mean.
This ultra-high-speed wireless networking speci cation isn’t exactly new – the standard has been knocking around since 2009, and indeed it’s already built into the Netgear R9000 Nighthawk X10.
802.11ad uses very high frequency radio waves – on the 60GHz band, to be precise, versus the 5GHz band used by 802.11ac
– to achieve speeds of up to 8Gbits/sec. Unfortunately, it’s an inescapable rule of physics that the shorter a radio wave gets, the less able it is to penetrate solid objects. In the case of 802.11ad, the signal can barely travel through a single wall, meaning it’s more or less a line-of-sight connection only. It’s no surprise that, despite having been on the scene so long, it’s never hit the big time.
Don’t write 802.11ad off just yet, though. Some manufacturers believe that 60GHz networking is about to nd its niche in devices such as virtual reality headsets, which need to stream huge amounts of graphical data wirelessly over short distances. We’ll believe it when we see it, though – for now, it’s something you can de nitely live without.
This upcoming wireless standard uses a technique called orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (you heard) to carry more data than 802.11ac over the same type of radio connection. This should allow faster communications, whilst simultaneously reducing the effect of interference – potentially leading to four-fold increases in realworld performance. Early 802.11ax devices, showcased at CES at the start of the year, promised faster-than-Ethernet downloads, with a nominal top speed of 11Gbits/sec.
It’s widely expected that 802.11ax will become the industry-standard successor to 802.11ac. The catch is that the standard hasn’t yet been of cially certi ed: the full speci cation isn’t expected to be nalised until next year, and it will probably be a year or two after that before the technology trickles down into mainstream consumer devices. Look for 802.11ax on your next router, perhaps, but we suggest you don’t hold your breath, you could be waiting a long time.
WPA3 has nothing to do with the speed of your wireless network, but everything to do with its security. The latest version of the Wi-Fi Protected Access standard was published in June 2018, and it brings some signi cant advantages over the current WPA2 system.
One of those is that it’s not vulnerable to the “KRACK” exploit, discovered last year, which could allow a determined intruder to break into your wireless network by tricking the system into reusing a known encryption key. There’s also a new authentication system that makes it impossible to trick your way onto a protected network by using brute-force to deduce the required credentials. Both are very positive enhancements, though we The future 802.11ax standard should reduce the effect of interference doubt many people’s home networks are interesting enough to attract such concerted hack attacks.
Perhaps more signi cant is an upgrade to the way open wireless networks are handled. Currently, if you connect to an unsecured hotspot, all of the information you exchange with the router is unencrypted, and can be easily captured and spied on by anybody within range. With WPA3, data packets are securely encrypted even on “open” connections.
We’ve yet to see any hardware that supports WPA3, but when it does come along the transition should be seamless, as it’s fully backward-compatible with existing WPA2 gear. If you’re buying a new phone or laptop in the next year or two, it’s well worth keeping an eye out for WPA3, so you can enjoy far greater security on open networks – and you can then upgrade to a compatible router as and when a convenient opportunity comes along in the future.
“Look for 802.11ax on your next router, perhaps, but don’t hold your breath this time around – you could be waiting a long time”
The 802.11ad standard is built into the Netgear R9000 Nighthawk X10