Multi-gigabit Wi-Fi is here and 5 reasons it matters


Broadcom is expected to show off silicon that offers 1.8 1.3 gigabit per second Wi-Fi at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. The technology will help prepare home networks for the era of whole-home video streaming. To promote the chips, which will use the 802.11ac standard, Broadcom has hijacked the G used by cellular networks, calling the new standard 5G Wi-Fi.

Terminology aside, here’s why this latest iteration of Wi-Fi is so cool:

  1. It’s fast. The standard can deliver up to 3.6 Gbps around the home, although initial chips offer 1.81.3 Gbps. The current top-of-the-line Wi-Fi chips (802.11n) top out at 600 Mbps.
  2. It’s designed for video. The technology uses the 5 gigahertz band as opposed to the 2.4 gigahertz band. The gigahertz band has wider channels to deliver more capacity and competes with fewer other wireless devices, which means the channels can carry more data such as fat high-definition and maybe even 3-D video streams.
  3. It’s designed for multiple devices and concurrent streams. Those wider channels also mean a home can support more devices trying to send lots of data, such as sending multiple, concurrent HD video streams around the home, while someone else plays a game or video conferences. So while you might not think you need a gigabit home network without a gigabit pipe leading to your home, if you’re streaming cached content from a hard drive or another device, this helps.
  4. It’s more power-efficient. The wider channels allow for more data to travel over the network, which means downloads take less time. At that point, the radio powers down to save on battery life or power. This doesn’t help when streaming, but would be good for keeping devices and hard drives synced.
  5. It goes the distance. The physics of transmitting data using airwaves over distances and through certain materials doesn’t change, but because the standard can deliver faster speeds from the router, folks will get proportionately faster speeds as they move away from the router in their homes and offices. It also uses beamforming technology (basically, it compresses the signal like a laser compresses light to make it more powerful) to better pass through buildings, especially through those made of concrete. The end result is a better signal — even if it must pass through a few walls — and a decent end-user experience.

Broadcom expects to start shipping chips in the middle of this year and appearing in a wide variety of products from phones and laptops to set-top-boxes and home routers that will ship in the second half of the year. In November, Quantenna, a chipmaker startup that has raised more than $60 million, announced its own 802.11 ac chips, and in September, I spoke with Craig Barratt, president of Qualcomm Atheros about that chipmaker’s vision for the next generation of Wi-Fi.

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