The latest Wi-Fi standard to hit the market is 802.11ac and it’s been split up into two flavors; Wave 1 and Wave 2. Wave 1 has been out for awhile, but Wave 2 consumer routers and business access points have recently become available. With that in mind, what do you need to know about these new standards?
It’s important to know the two main differences between Wave 2 versus Wave 1:
- Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) essentially allows a Wave 2 router or access point (AP) to communicate with more than one client at a time. Until Wave 2, APs served wireless clients one at a time. That means each wireless device had to wait its turn among all the other clients. MU-MIMO has the effect of occupying the radio waves for a shorter time (known as airtime demand). The lower airtime demand, the faster your neighbor across the café gets his email attachment, and the faster you get your important Instagram pictures, which means the happier all Wi-Fi users will be.
- 160MHz bandwidth channels are supported in Wave 2. Without diving into the weeds, the wider the bandwidth, the faster your downloads complete.
Should you rush to buy Wave 2 routers and access points?
I highly recommend you don’t yet. Why not? Consider the following:
- Routers and access points are infrastructure (like a cellular base station is for our smart phones). Infrastructure needs friends to play with, or client devices. To realize Wave 2 benefits, our laptops, smart phones, tablets, game consoles, and other gear have to use Wave 2 wireless chips. I don’t expect many Wave 2 clients to show up on the market until 2016, and even then it will take a year longer before the majority of clients support Wave 2.
- For the home user—especially gamers—the bandwidth provided by the 160MHz channel could be a win. For everyone else, it’s a yawn. That’s because even though it provides faster speed to single clients, it also translates to less overall speed for the combined group. Think of it like the width of your shopping cart at the grocery store. If we’re all wheeling around a 6ft. wide monster cart, only one of us could cruise a shopping isle at a time, which slows down shopping for everyone. However, if we all sported 2ft. wide carts, we could fit three of them in the isle at a time, allowing everyone to get their shopping done in a reasonable period.
In summary, to avoid an unnecessary 802.11ac Wave 2 headache, I recommend you go ahead and buy Wave 1 routers or APs today. You can rest easy and not worry, because doing so won’t put you behind the times.
-Ryan Orsi, Product Manager (@RyanOrsi)