An Introduction to Wireless 802.11ac Routers: What does 802.11ac WiFi Mean for You?

Even if one is new to networking, terms such as "Wireless-N," "Wireless-G," and "802.11g/n" are quite well known to most computer users--even if just through setup screens. Many, if not most wireless-capable devices such as smartphones, computers, laptops, and tablets are compatible with the Wireless-N standard, which was announced in 2007 and became commonplace afterwards. (More information on Wireless-N can be found here.)

In the years since Wireless-N became commonly known, however, bandwidth consumption has dramatically increased, and the number of homes with multiple HD media streaming devices is continuing to grow. To usher in the demands of the new digital household and office environments, a new wireless standard called 802.11ac began development in 2011.

What is the 802.11ac standard?

Essentially, 802.11ac is the new wireless networking standard, expected to be finalized sometime in 2012/2013 but is currently available in "draft" status. While it's fully compatible with older standards, if one has devices that are supported by 802.11ac (or enabled with an optional adapter, e.g., NETGEAR's A6200) those devices will have access to up to gigabit speeds... speeds previously attainable only via wired Ethernet connections.

What does 802.11ac WiFi mean for me?

As your demands for HD streaming, online gaming, and super-fast downloads continue to grow, the 802.11ac standard will be there to seamlessly support the needs of your wireless devices. As of the writing of this article in mid-2012, 802.11ac devices are still brand new and just hitting the market. In no time, though, it's very likely that devices supporting the standard out of the box will begin to pop up. In time, wireless streaming of full HD content, to more devices simultaneously than ever before, will become a reality for the average household.

Do I need to upgrade to an 802.11ac wireless router right now?

If you currently have a high quality router built on the Wireless-N standard, such as the WNR3500L, WNDR3800, or WNDR4500, you may not need to upgrade immediately--but you will definitely benefit from the new technology.

For example, NETGEAR's new R6300 802.11ac wireless router is one of the fastest routers on the market today and has also been shown to improve wireless range (due to the WiFi Boost high powered amplifiers). It's also backwards compatible, so it will be compatible with your other devices--while getting you ready for the future and eliminating the need to upgrade when 802.11ac devices are released.

In other words--If you have an immediate need to have the maximum speed and range to meet high streaming and bandwidth demands, upgrading to an 802.11ac router ensures you will have what you require now and in the future. If you have yet to purchase a router for yoru home or office, getting one with support for 802.11ac prevents the need to make another purchase when the standard becomes more common.

Where can I learn more about 802.11ac?