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A Peek at Wi-Fi's Future: Simpler and Faster

Stocks in this article: BRCM AAPL NTGR SBUX

Figueroa says that if you buy a new "draft AC" device today, it will likely be compatible with the final standard. "There are potentially some risks but as we've seen from the 11n experience, all of our industry players are committed to interoperability," he said.

Other issues AC has right now is devices are expensive and there aren't many devices available. Nearly every major Wi-Fi brand has an AC router for sale, but AC adapters are rare.

Currently, no TVs, laptops or smartphones include AC. To get the top speeds, all the devices must have the AC chip inside. AC products should become more plentiful later next year once the standard is final.

The promise is gigabit speeds, technically doable because 802.11ac uses multiple channels and streams to send and receive data. The common metaphor is a highway. Earlier versions of Wi-Fi (A, B and G) were limited to one lane or "stream." Wireless N quadrupled the number of lanes used to move data back and forth -- and widened the highway. The new AC doubles it again.

Besides more streams, AC operates at the higher, less crowded wireless frequency of 5 GHz. Comparably, Wireless N operates at 2.4 GHz, which is used by garage remotes, baby monitors and microwave ovens.

AC routers are getting good reviews at CNET and PC World. If you're willing to take a gamble, splurging on an AC router is a future-proof investment.

"You should always look at a router and consider where you want to be two years from now. Like any other infrastructure investment, look at existing requirements and where you will be in the future," said Sandeep Harpalani, a manager of wireless networking at Netgear (NTGR), which introduced its first AC routers in May.

802.11ad: Hello, Multi-Gigabit Wi-Fi!

Nicknamed WiGig, this futuristic Wi-Fi has been in the works publicly since 2009. Technically called 802.11ad, it will be a major performance upgrade from AC by going up to 7-gigabits per second.

The reason it can speed up dramatically is AD will add communication over a new frequency of 60 GHz. But to make sure it works with older Wi-Fi devices, AD products should also support the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies used by today's Wireless N and the older B and G Wi-Fi.

"The 60 GHz is in-room only so it can allow islands of very high capacity and used in devices like wireless docking," Figueroa said. "Most (AD) products will be tri-band."

There's no timetable yet on WiGig, although a WiGig Alliance has already been formed. The WiGig and Wi-Fi Alliances plan to work together to certify products for interoperability when the technologies are ready.

"I'm being truthful here when I say we're transforming your wireless experience," Figueroa said. "It can happen because all of the folks that need to be at the table are here."

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Tamara Chuang is an outside contributor to TheStreet. Her opinions are her own.
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