Wi-Fi about to get speed boost

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Posted: Monday, July 8, 2013 12:00 am

YouTube videos stopping and starting? Spreadsheets taking an eternity to upload? Connections suddenly dropping?

Many of those Wi-Fi woes could soon come to an end.

An industry group recently began certifying products capable of running on a faster and more reliable wireless network technology. It marked the unofficial beginning of the next generation of Wi-Fi.

Contrary to popular belief, many of the connection problems home users have are often not related to their broadband service but rather to the Wi-Fi routers.

The new technology — 802.11ac — has the potential to be up to four times as fast as the current standard 802.11n technology. Smartphones, computers and routers with the new technology are hitting store shelves, though industry experts don’t expect most consumers to start buying until the holiday shopping season or early next year.

The technical improvements bring Wi-Fi up to par with the sweeping changes in the home entertainment industry. The number of Wi-Fi-connected devices in U.S. households has doubled during the past five years, according to Wakefield Research.

Smartphones, tablets and even appliances now compete with televisions, gaming consoles and laptops for a share of a finite network bandwidth. Increasingly, many of the devices are also displaying hours of video a day, putting a strain on the network.

The fifth generation of Wi-Fi tackles those problems by increasing speed limits and moving to a new highway, from the congested lanes of the 2.4-gigahertz frequency band to a more open 5-gigahertz spectrum.

The changes should mean that routers will be able to accommodate more devices at one time and provide better coverage throughout a home or office space. In apartments or areas crowded with other electronics, the new “highway” offers the promise of less interference, meaning connections shouldn’t randomly drop.

“We expect that the users will see a significant increase in the performance of their applications,” said Greg Ennis, technical director of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

The trade association owns the Wi-Fi trademark, and it must say that a product works correctly with other Wi-Fi certified products before a device can carry the official Wi-Fi seal. Ennis said the start of the alliance’s certification process would unleash a flood of products onto the market capable of running 802.11ac.

But the improvements won’t come cheap, at least initially.

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