802.11ac was the most advanced wireless networking standard until the release of Wi-Fi 6 (initially known as 802.11ax), deployed in late 2019. Operating on the 5GHz frequency spectrum, 802.11ac, or Wi-Fi 5, was approved in 2013. This standard provides higher transfer rates, boosted reliability, and lower power consumption than prior versions. These improvements have allowed for previously inaccessible usage scenarios, such as lower-latency gaming and simultaneous HD video streaming within the same wireless network.
Wi-Fi 5 is backward compatible with the preceding 802.11 protocol standards (namely 802.11n, 802.11g, 802.11b, and 802.11a). This means that, although a Wi-Fi 5 router can provide connectivity to wireless devices equipped with preceding protocol versions, and 802.11ac electronics can connect via earlier-generation routers, users can only benefit from all the advantages of Wi-Fi 5 if the connected devices offer Wi-Fi 5 support.
The 802.11ac wireless standard data transfer rate is of 1.3 Gbps (gigabits per second), far exceeding the previous version's 0.45 Gbps. Users should, however, keep in mind that the highest speeds are rarely (if ever) achieved in real-world situations. Still, there was every reason to celebrate the astonishing speed increase brought by the deployment of Wi-Fi 5. One of the improvement factors is known as "beamforming": while former wireless standards spread out their signal in every direction, 802.11ac Wi-Fi technology amplifies the signal toward connected devices.
Manufacturers were quick to launch laptops compatible with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, with many products reported even before the wireless standard's final approval. As an example, Apple's MacBook Air and MacBook Pro have featured Wi-Fi 5 since June 2013. Samsung kicked off the incorporation of the new technology into smartphones, earning the first 802.11ac Wi-Fi certification for its Samsung Galaxy Mega. Nowadays, high-end and mid-range phones are expected to have inbuilt Wi-Fi 5. Still, if you value fast connections and are looking for a new phone, it's better to be safe and look for this information on Versus.