As a teaser to the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) back in January, Broadcom – a semiconductor solutions company specializing in wired and wireless networks – announced what's believed to be the first chipsets in the 802.11ac standard, the newest addition to the 802.11 portfolio. Broadcom promises Gigabit wireless speeds, and has dubbed this "5G Wi-Fi." Other wireless networking companies like Buffalo Technologies and Redpine Signals announced their "ac" plans on the CES show floor as well.
So how different is the 802.11ac standard from its predecessors? And, given that 4G has been available in the market for a couple of years, what impact will the two technologies have on physical security practitioners?
To make predictions we first need to step back in time. In February 2011, I wrote an article for SecurityInfoWatch.com about 802.11n wireless, the then-newest 802.11 standard issued by IEEE. In that article I explained that the 802.11n standard provided an increase of up to 400 percent in available bandwidth and doubled the transmission range. These increases opened new doors for the deployment of physical security applications in areas that were traditionally cost prohibitive or technically infeasible. For instance, prior to the new standard, deploying HDTV cameras in a large parking lot was technically feasible but rarely used due to high cost. Today, 802.11n and the corresponding devices not only provide the necessary bandwidth and range to operate high-resolution cameras, but camera manufacturers are now offering truly cost-effective HDTV cameras rated for outdoor use.
As we predicted, 2011 saw the proliferation of 802.11n products flooding both the consumer and commercial markets – everything from smart phones and tablets to televisions and commercial-grade wireless connectivity. Conversely, camera manufacturers only introduced a handful of 802.11n-compatible surveillance cameras to the marketplace, limiting consumers to a few entry level solutions. Even so, security practitioners leveraged 802.11n by pairing wireless access points to professional-level cameras. Last year we saw the deployment of 802.11n IP-based surveillance systems in retail, transportation and, most notably, in municipal monitoring applications.
While still in its infancy inside the security world, 802.11n has been a game changer with increasing returns that affords practitioners with a host of options they never had before.
More is better: 802.11ac
In January of 2011, the IEEE announced the initial technical specification for 802.11ac, which drove bandwidth into the Gigabit-per-second range. Using multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) data communication, which incorporates multiple antennas for sending and receiving data, 802.11ac bandwidth ranges from 800Mbps up to 6Gbps. Like its predecessors, the latest standard operates below the 6GHz spectrum but increases channel width from 40MHz up to 160MHz, which theoretically increases bandwidth by 900 percent over 802.11n (Remember: 802.11n increased bandwidth by 400 percent times over its previous ancestor).
802.11ac is expected to be ratified in late 2012, but that hasn't stopped manufactures like Broadcom from producing chipsets based on its specifications. I expect that within a year, the consumer market will see companies launching wireless access points geared towards the residential or SOHO (small office, home office) markets. However, I don't anticipate this technology being adopted in the commercial sector until 2013.
This doesn't mean that consultants and integrators should dismiss the technology's viability as too far in the future. Remember that consultants and integrators often work on projects with roll-out schedules that span several years. Since these standards are backwards compatible, integrators can install successive iterations of the technology to improve performance without sacrificing the existing installed base.
Let's take a quick look at the evolution of these standards and their impact on the data bit rate, channel bandwidth and range: