Now certified, WiFi 802.11ac Wave 2 promises faster, further wireless

The next generation of WiFi, 802.11ac Wave 2, has begun certification, promising features that dramatically improve wireless speed and range. Although 802.11ac was first approved all the way back in January 2014, resulting in a surge of so-called Wave 1 routers and network adapters, this new round of certification by the Wi-Fi Alliance covers more advanced technologies that in many cases address the increasingly large number of wireless devices we find in our homes and offices.

Perhaps the biggest addition to certification in Wave 2 is MU-MIMO, or Multi-user Multiple Input Multiple Output. While MIMO has been an element of 802.11ac already, MU-MIMO builds on it with the ability to more effectively multitask when dealing with several wireless devices.

Normally, wireless routers rapidly switch between clients, transmitting to them one at a time. As the number of clients increases, the delay involved while waiting for it to be your phone, tablet, laptop, or game consoles "turn" in the queue can introduce latency in how fast webpages respond or how smooth video or game streaming is.

With MU-MIMO, routers will be able to communicate to multiple devices simultaneously, meaning no waiting time.

There's also support for 160 MHz channels, doubling the maximum channel bandwidth from the old standard, and in the process theoretically doubling the transmission speeds. An extra spatial stream has been added, too, taking the total supported to four.

Finally, there's extended 5 GHz channel support, pushing more devices to extra channels on the frequency so as to more efficiently use that spectrum and try to better avoid overlapping. 96-percent of devices are expected to be dual-band capable by 2020.

According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, devices with full support for the 802.11ac Wave 2 specifications could see up to threefold increases in speed.

However, even if you have a mixture of old and new devices, you'll still potentially see an improvement, since those compliant with the new standard will be more efficiently dealt with.

The first chipsets – from Broadcom, Marvell, MediaTek, Qualcomm, and Quantenna – have already been approved, and should start showing up in routers in the coming months. Linksys has already announced one router with WiFi 802.11ac Wave 2 support, meanwhile, but you can check compatibility at the Wi-Fi Alliance's site.

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