Here at Innovation Labs we’ve done a lot of work around the connected home which usually involves trawling through research papers and in-depth reports explaining WiFi standards for engineers like me.
What I realised was missing was an up-to-date look at the differences and what they mean for real people, especially in terms of the speed, range and stability.
That’s why I wanted to explain three common 802.11 standards that many routers and devices comply with today. I’ll also introduce you to two upcoming standards, AX and AH, the next steps along the journey to a completely connected world.
Please note this posts aims to give a non-technical overview of wireless standards. I’ve included links to further reading in each section and if you would like to learn more follow us on Twitter for more in-depth posts on this soon.
N Standard (802.11n)
By far the most popular standard today. 802.11n is the Volkswagen of wireless standards.
Almost everything using WiFi now complies with N standard and it’s quite a technical improvement from it’s predecessor, 802.11g, which suffered from interference when in close range to everything, from bluetooth to baby monitors. Not what you need when you’re trying to surf Reddit or look for videos of cute kittens.
N standard offers significant advantages in terms of encoding data and increasing transfer speeds. Reliable, stable and a safe bet for a flat or small house. A lot of new IoT products are also opting to use it to keep costs low whilst still delivering sufficient bandwidth.
Read more: Defining 802.11n [PC Mag]
AC Standard (802.11ac)
802.11ac is currently the supercar of the standards world and routers complying to this standard gain drastic improvements in performance, reliability, range and coverage. A big driver to move to AC was the need to include support for the 5 GHz frequency bands, opening up more of the wireless spectrum and allowing greater speeds.
AC Standard employs two new technologies, MIMO and beamforming. To put it simply:
Beamforming allows routers to focus a WiFi signal in a particular direction. It reduces interference and increase the range at which you can connect to the router.
MIMO, an acronym for multiple-inputs multiple-outputs allows your router to differentiate between connected devices and ensure data is sent simultaneously to all of them.
Later in 2013, an iteration of AC Standard known as 802.11ac Wave 2 increased maximum wireless speeds even further. The top routers on the market today use Wave 2 to differentiate themselves, offering even more speed, stability and reliability to the original AC standard routers.
As we start to stream more multimedia content and the number of devices in our homes continue to increase, the router industry is moving towards widespread adoption of the AC wireless standard.
AD Standard (802.11ad)
AD standard is fast. Really fast. If AC standard is a supercar, AD is a supersonic jet.
Higher frequencies allow for faster data transfer making things like streaming videos happen much faster. The issue with AD is the higher frequencies it broadcasts at have a hard time penetrating objects. That means walls, doors and even windows can seriously impede how far a signal can travel.
This means the indoor range of these routers is lower than the other standards we’ve explored. But a lot of data can be packed into the signals they send. AD standard devices also use beamforming technology meaning they can send data point-to-point over long distances. An example could be connecting networks in two buildings on a college campus.
In 2016 the world’s first 802.11ad router was announced. These routers offer tri-band connectivity meaning the AD, N and AC technologies coexist with each other. This removes the need to stay in the same room as your router. Put simply, if you’re out of range for AD’s 60Hz frequencies, you’ll lose benefits of super speeds but will remain connected on the 2.4-5 GHz frequencies supported by the N and AC standards.
An AD router could be used with great effect to link device docks with wireless interconnects or transfer large amounts of data between two devices in close proximity.
Note; In China and some other regions of the world 802.11ad has been renamed as IEEE 802.11aj and altered to work on the 45GHz band, learn more about this here.
Above I’ve explored three of the most popular 802.11 standards, but there’s a couple more on the horizon and two in particular that we should be keeping our eyes on.
AH Standard (802.11ah)
Continuing our analogy AH is the blimp of the standards world: It moves slowly but is able to travel long distances. And this is where it gets interesting.
By using sub GhZ frequencies, AH compliant devices will be able to send small amounts of data over long distances without losing a connection. Walls and windows are no longer an issue.
An obvious application of devices complying to AH would be with small low power IoT devices, such as sensors, which could be dotted around a large area. It’ll essentially work like Bluetooth does but over a much wider range. For this reason they could one day be used to link up IoT devices across your property.
In January 2016, the Wi-Fi alliance announced an extension of AH called Wi-Fi HaLow. Though some analysts warn that 802.15.4 technologies such as ZigBee and Google Thread could threaten widespread adoption of the AH standard in years to come.
AX Standard (802.11ax)
802.11ax is the stealth bomber of our analogy, expected to travel longer distances at incredibly quick speeds. Inspired by ideas from LTE and 5G technologies used in the telecoms industry, AX is an intriguing standard we’ll be exploring more in future blog posts.
According to Extreme Tech “in a lab-based trial of technology similar to 802.11ax Huawei hit a max speed of 10.53Gbps, or around 1.4 gigabytes of data transfer per second.”
Essentially AX Standard uses more sophisticated techniques of encoding signals, which Huawei reported increasing efficiency tenfold. That’s great news for film buffs who will be able to stream films in a massive 8K without any issues.
As well as the movie fans and audiophiles looking for high quality streaming, another way we expect to see routers with AX standard being used is in hotels and big buildings. This means multiple users could all connect to one router and get high speeds across an entire building.
So there you have it. A potted history exploring some of the major wireless standards out there. This is only the tip of the iceberg though and information on the new standards is still emerging, so we’d love to hear from you.
Any interesting new standards we’ve missed? Any details we should include? Get in touch over at @AVGInno or leave a comment below. You can also keep up to date with our work on the Chime Connected Home Platform by joining our newsletter or visiting www.chimewifi.com.