NEW STAN­DARDS

NET­WORK­ING STAN­DARDS ARE AL­WAYS AD­VANC­ING – HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NEXT-GEN­ER­A­TION TECH­NOLO­GIES

PC & Tech Authority - - GROUP TEST ROUTERS -

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.

802.11AD

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.

802.11AX

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

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

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