May 17, 2012

769 words 4 mins read

Broadcom / Netgear's 802.11ac Event (Gigabit Wifi)

Earlier this week Broadcom and Netgear had a joint release event for their new 802.11ac “Gigabit” WiFi equipment. Broadcom is providing the chipsets while Netgear is providing the “finished product” which included the R6300 router, R6200 router, and the A6200 USB WiFi adapter (dongle). So far these three items are the only 802.11ac products available, but the presenters mentioned that they expected to see a shift from 802.11n to .11ac over the next 6-9 months with a lot of equipment available by the end of 2013. I suspect they also know of additional products in the pipeline that we haven’t heard of yet.

The presentation was held in downtown San Francisco on what turned out to be a rather nice day. Our day’s briefing was given by Michael Hurlston (SVP and GM of Broadcom’s Wireless group), Patrik Lo (CEO, Netgear), and David Henry (VP of Product Management, Netgear). Most of the talk was about the 802.11ac standard, Broadcom/Netgear’s new line of products, and why you need/want this new speed.

The headline product is the R6300 router, running the new 802.11ac standard, it has a total of 6 antennas, 3 on 2.4 GHz and 3 on 5 GHz (all of the antennas both transmit and receive). Broadcom/Netgear claims that the device will push (in the .11ac standard) 1.3 Gbps over the wireless interface. It’s tiny bit awesome to see that the speed limiting factor on the router is the GIGABIT (10/100/1000) wired ethernet connection. Beyond the super fancy wireless, the router also has 2 USB ports for external hard drives (centralized backup and DLNA support) along with Apple AirPrint support. It’ll set you back $199 on Amazon or your local retailer and will be available in June.

The next item is the R6200 router, which is very similar to the R6300. The only major differences is that the R6200 only has 1 USB port and 4 wireless antennas (2 per band). The R6200 is also available now for $179. At this current moment, the R6200 falls under the “why bother” category of hardware. If you want to upgrade to 802.11ac (and I know I do) and have the cash to spare… just go for the top of the line unit. Broadcom expects .11ac to be the “next big thing” for at least 5 to 6 years… so it should be a while before you need to upgrade again.

The confusion starts with the client side equipment. Since you’ve got a speedy router, you need something speedy for your computer and that comes in the form of the A6200 USB WiFi adapter. Yes, there is an “A6200” and an “R6200”. Anyway, there isn’t much to write home about in terms of the dongle. It is 802.11ac and has an antenna that can rotate for optimal signal strength. Release price stated at $69.

So why should you upgrade from 54 Mbps or 400 Mbps to 1.3 Gbps? According to Broadcom/Netgear it’s all about Video, Video, Video. Everyone and everything is streaming video now (which is true: iPad, TV, BluRay, and Xbox — all stream) so you “need” the bandwidth to support that. Unfortunately most of the streaming they are talking about is Hulu or Netflix at a whopping 5 Mbps (tops). Don’t get me wrong, more bandwidth is always a good thing, but until home users get internet connections that are at least 100 megabit (and beyond) — most people probably won’t notice. Of course, if you move around large files on your local network (like myself) — gigabit wireless will definitely be a boon to you.

Broadcom/Netgear did make a good point — increased wireless speeds means better battery life for mobile devices. The faster a device can transfer data, the less time it spends with the radio active, the less power burned. This is true of 3G to WiFi, and WiFi to WiFi++ (once, of course, cell phones have .11AC built in). This speed also means a theoretical increase of “usable” range — if you’re far enough from a .11g access point you could lose 97% of your signal and end up at just 2 Mbps. Lose 97% of 1.3 Gbps and you’ve still got a very useable 40 Mbps.

I fully intend to upgrade to 802.11ac as soon as I can since it will be theoretically faster than my gigabit ethernet. I move around a lot of data on the local network and it would cut transfer times dramatically. If you’re not a tech geek, hold off on upgrading to 802.11ac until you either NEED a new router or you have one or more client devices that support it.