Fast 11ac adoption seen for smartphones

Fast 11ac adoption seen for smartphones

"Super" Wi-Fi will be available on seven of 10 smartphones in 2015, according to a market analysis by ABI Research. And they'll have more advanced Bluetooth radios and near-field communications (NFC) as well.

Resources for understanding 802.11ac 'Gigabit' Wi-Fi

Because of the benefits of the emerging 802.11ac standard for Wi-Fi, ABI Senior Analyst Josh Flood forecasts very rapid adoption in smartphones and other mobile devices, though backward compatibility with 802.11n will let them link with existing access points and hot spots for a long time to come.

But 802.11ac innovations are something of a moving target: some of the biggest boosts won't come for several years as vendors phase in selected features. And one of the biggest initial gains may be due simply to the fact that 802.11ac operates only in the relatively clean and clear 5-GHz frequency.

The data is from a new report, "Mobile Device Enabling Technologies" from ABI Research

Flood notes that 802.11ac's connection speed is much faster, offers better reliability and better throughput at a given distance, and requires much less power consumption compared to 802.11n. "It's also capable of multiple 2X2 streams and should be particularly good for gaming experiences and HD video streaming on mobile devices," he says in an ABI statement.

But that's more likely for tablets or similar larger-format devices than for most new smartphones. Generally, vendors and analysts expect that smartphones will have single-antenna 802.11ac radios, supporting one data stream. Like 802.11n, 802.11ac creates dramatically higher data rates and throughput but using multiple send/receive antennas with corresponding multiple data streams. [see "11ac will be faster, but how much faster really?"]

The 802.11ac standard is sometimes dubbed 'Gigabit Wi-Fi" because a 3x3 antenna configuration with three data streams yields a PHY rate of just over 1Gbps.

The increased performance won't drain batteries: chip vendor Broadcom, for example, says its 802.11ac chipset will be six times more power efficient than 802.11n.

A somewhat similar evolution is taking place with Bluetooth, according to Flood. In 2012, 65% of mobile devices have some version of Bluetooth, 1.0 to 3.0 known as "Bluetooth Classic." The fourth generation of Bluetooth, dubbed Bluetooth Smart Ready," was unveiled in 2011. While it has the same data rate and range (up to 26Mbps and 100 meters), Smart Ready radios are vastly more power efficient.

According to Flood, Bluetooth Smart Ready "will extend the possible usage of the technology by a factor of five to 10 times, depending on the user's behavior." He predicts that Smart Ready devices will outstrip Bluetooth Classic devices within two years.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.



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