When will WiFi be faster? Let’s talk 802.11ad, 802.11ax, and the problem of owning lots of devices

The world of wireless networking might just sound like a bunch of jargon to you, but to us it’s important stuff, and if you’ve ever wondered why wireless networking isn’t as fast as 4G mobile speeds, well, there is good news coming.

Good and bad news, that is, because the good news is that faster WiFi is coming, and so is wireless networking with a greater range, but the bad news is that it won’t be here next week or even next year.

Speaking to Broadcom’s Richard Najarian and Netgear’s David Henry at the local launch of Netgear’s X6 router, the first tri-band router in the world, we found out just what’s going on with the latest developments in wireless networking.

While 802.11ac is more or less the new “must have” wireless technology for anyone looking for better range and faster speeds, the technology that is practically replacing the 802.11n wireless routers and access points we’ve been using for the past seven or eight years is getting ready to be replaced itself.

Two years ago, when 802.11ac was first revealed and shown to be up to three times faster than 802.11n, another wireless technology was shown only a few months later.

Called “802.11ad,” this version of the technology expands upon 802.11ac and offers a greater range, potentially offering itself as a replacement.

But that hasn’t happened quite as much as many expected, and in talking to the experts, we found why: according to Netgear’s David Henry, the experiments with the technology haven’t quite yielded a decision as to whether it’s worth including, telling us that the technology isn’t quite as fast as it could be, though it does offer a long range.

Part of the dilemma also comes from needing more devices to support the technology, which at the moment almost none do. With 802.11ac being used for the past two years, however, there are now more products than ever that can jump onto the 802.11ac networks, including pretty much any and every flagship smartphone, several tablets, and laptops, with the next iPhone also expected to support the high-speed 802.11ac standard. That said, support for 802.11ad remains missing in action, making it that much harder to test in real-world situations.

It’s not just 802.11ad, either, with af, ah, ai, aj, and aq all amendments to the 802.11 standard that could be added.

But only one amendment really has the attention of big companies.

Shown recently by telecommunications and smartphone provider Huawei, 802.11ax could be the technology that we’ll be seeing in high-end routers within the next few years.

Broadcom, one of the makers of the chips that let people jump online using wireless networking, is looking heavily into this technology, as it offers up to 10 Gigabit speeds on the 802.11ax networks, a speed that is not only seven times higher than the maximum currently offered by the newest 802.11ac devices, but also one that would provide faster speeds for home theatre products developed with Ultra High Definition (4K TVs) in mind.

You’ll still need a faster internet connection in your home, sure, and in Australia, we’ll be needing a National Broadband Network to make that happen, but with more wireless networking being featured in TVs, at least the bottleneck won’t be the router with this technology.

In fact Broadcom’s Najarian told us that the 802.11ax technology isn’t as far off as we think, hinting that the company is beginning to work with the technology now, and that we could see it in products within the next two to three years, putting it close to the 2018 mark that Huawei suggested we would see it in.

By then, 4K TVs will likely be more popular, with 8K TVs also a possibility in the home by then as well. Hopefully we’ll have faster internet across our massive nation to match, increasing the need for these high speed routers.

Until then, however, 802.11ac fills the need for faster speeds around the home, with as much as 1.3 Gigabits of speed offered wirelessly for products that have the 802.11ac WiFi technology built into them. That includes quite a few laptops and tablets, and smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z2, HTC One (M8), as well as plenty of others, but speed isn’t likely to be the big problem at the moment, but rather the amount of products we all have and the resulting need to balance that load.

With more wireless products in our home, wireless routers and modem routers need to have better innards, faster processors, and stronger support for load balancing, managing all the phones, tablets, laptops, smart cameras, printers, TVs, game consoles, speakers, hard drives, lightbulbs, security cameras, washing machines, fridges, and anything else that has the potential to jump onto a wireless network in this “internet of things” that we live in.

Fortunately, more products are coming out that are thinking about this need, as well.

This week’s announcement of the tri-band Netgear X6 is one such product, relying on a dual-core processor and three offload processors to help with one such burden. It does come with a relatively big price, that said, fetching a recommended retail price of $399, but it’s one of the first products to attempt to deal with our addiction to wireless technology, so it does naturally come with an early adoption price.

Later on, you can expect more products with varied pricing spec’d to deal with this issue, but for now, only people willing to spend that much really need apply.

The good news, though, is eventually all network products will have this sort of technology on-board, as well as some of the faster tech to bring you better wireless networking speeds.

As for the question of when will better WiFi speeds be coming, that can simply be answered with “eventually,” expanding it to a view of 2017 to 2018, and by then, we’ll probably have a glimpse of the next big deal in WiFi anyway.

Until then, ageing 802.11g and 802.11n networks will want to consider the move to 802.11ac as the speed will be noticeable once you have the compatible gadgets to go with them.