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Apple To Adopt 1Gbps 802.11ac Wireless Under ‘5G Wi-Fi’ Brand?

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

802.11ac is good news, but why the confusing “5G Wi-Fi’ label?

Apple is planning to add 802.11ac, the new fast version of Wi-Fi, to its Macintosh products this year, say reports. But the move could cause confusion if it adopts chip-maker Broadcom’s bright idea of re-branding the technology as “5G Wi-Fi”.

Apple is going to add Broadcom chips to its 2013 Mac computers, which will support the new 802.11ac version of Wi-Fi, which can go up to 1Gbps, according to sources reported by The Next Web. However, Broadcom is branding the new generation on its blogs and sites as “5G Wi-Fi”, which will only increase the confusion between Wi-Fi LAN technologies and cellular data technologies such as 4G.

5g wi fi 802.11ac logo broadcom

Can we just say 802.11ac?

The 802.11ac standard is nearly complete, with Wi-Fi standards maker, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), due to finalise and approve it in 2013. It extends the existing 802.11n version of Wi-Fi, using multiple antennas to support up to eight streams of data between the access point and the client device.

Although chips which “intercept” the expected final standard are available, it has not been widely adopted. It’s available in some consumer access points, and enterprise vendors like Aruba, have upgraded their switches to support the higher throughput it will need.

Apple has previously been a pioneer of earlier generations of Wi-Fi, and its adoption would be a big endorsement for the fledgling technology. However, as 802.11ac is backwards compatible with 802.11n, and the IEEE has plenty of practice at guiding new versions into the world, the new standard is expected to succeed in any case.

Yet in promoting the new standard as 5G Wi-Fi in marketing material, Broadcom could create confusion. “This is premature … and inaccurate,” said Vince Holton, editor of wireless magazine Incisor. Although Broadcom and others have said 802.11ac is the “fifth generation” of Wi-Fi, cellular network providers have already laid claim to “3G” and “4G”, and technologies planned to succeed 4G LTE technologies are already being called “5G”.

“There seems to be some attempt to blur the distinction between 5G and 5GHz,” said Holton. 5GHz is one of the licence-exempt ranges used by Wi-Fi, and 802.11ac is the first mainstream version of the standard to operate exclusively in that range. “It seems a bit irresponsible, but this sort of thing happens.”

The Wi-Fi Alliance creates branding for Wi-Fi standards, and has shown no willingness to adopt the “5G” label.

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