The IEEE 802.11n standard still dominates the Wi-Fi access point (AP) consumer market, but the faster 802.11ac is finally emerging. The 11ac standard uses the 5-GHz unlicensed band rather than the more popular 2.4-GHz band used by most 11n APs. Using higher modulation methods, more bandwidth, and multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO), 11ac offers higher data speeds up to 1.3 Gbits/s. This will improve performance in video streaming and in handling the growing load from multiple personal laptops, tablets, and smart phones.
The 802.11ac standard is complete, and the Wi-Fi Alliance is testing and certifying products now. Final ratification of the standard by the IEEE is expected late this year. However, it will be a while before 11ac penetrates the market to the same level as 11n. Chips are now showing up in laptops but have yet to appear in tablets or smart phones. That will come next year. In the meantime, now is your chance to prepare for the faster speeds by acquiring a new AP that can handle the 11ac standard. All APs are backward-compatible to 11n.
According to ABI Research, 11ac APs are gaining traction in the consumer market. ABI expects 1 million 802.11ac APs to be shipped by the end of 2013. In the consumer and small-office home-office (SOHO) Wi-Fi market, TP-LINK has the largest market share with 15%. Netgear and D-Link have 12% and 11% market share respectively. In the enterprise AP space, ZTE dominates with a 39% share followed by Cisco at 26%. HP is in third place, just ahead of Aruba Networks.
Other consumer wireless products coming later this year and early next will be based on 802.11ad WiGig. The standard is expected to be used in TV sets, DVD players, set-top boxes, and some laptops and tablets. It uses the 60-GHz unlicensed spectrum and can deliver up to 7-Gbit/s data speeds, making uncompressed wireless video transmission over HDMI, DisplayPort, or USB a reality. The 11ad products are not expected to affect 11ac applications or sales.