The new IEEE 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard may have just emerged, but there is already a newer wireless home networking standard hitting the market. Asus has finally started shipping the Wave 2 802.11ac router it promised back at CES, and home networking geeks who recently bought shiny new Wave 1 routers might just wind up kicking themselves.
Wave 2 technology isn’t promising a huge uptick in speed — at least not initially — but what it does provide is the ability to handle multiple simultaneous Wi-Fi connections over its four antennas using a tongue twisting technique called Multi-User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO).
Multiple simultaneous connections have become the norm in households these days with many smartphones, tablets and entertainment appliances connecting all vying for network time. Wave 1 and older Wi-Fi routers can only connect a single device at one time, meaning multiple devices queue up and take turns accessing its signals. Those connections are limited by the Wi-Fi speed of the device, which is often a fraction of what your router supports. But MU-MIMO assigns those different connections to different spatial streams.
You’re never going to get more than 1.7 Gbps of total capacity out of your Wave 2 router, but that capacity will go a lot further if four different devices can tap it simultaneously. The only catch is that client devices have to support Wave 2 technology as well to make full use of MU-MIMO’s capabilities. But as the routers emerge, the technology will starting making its way into laptops, media devices and even laptops and smartphones.
The new Asus RT-AC87, powered by Quantenna’s Wave 2 chipsets, is now available on Best Buy’s website for $280 and will be available in other physical and online retail stores in coming weeks. But it’s just the first of what will hopefully be a lot of new Wave 2 routers and devices. Qualcomm has started sampling its own Wave 2 silicon, and the rest of the Wi-Fi industry is working on their own consumer and enterprise products.
Meanwhile Quantenna is just getting started on its own Wave 2 silicon. It is already preparing a chip that will introduce eight-antenna configurations into routers, make use of wider Wi-Fi spectrum channels and boost network capacities into the 10 Gbps range.
Good luck figuring out applications to use over a 10 Gbps router though, apart from zipping extremely large media files across your home instantaneously.