Glossary

802.11ac Wi-Fi connection

What is 802.11ac Wi-Fi?

Although the next generation of wireless internet has already been announced (Wi-Fi 6), 802.11ac is, as of now, the most advanced wireless networking standard. Operating on the 5GHz frequency spectrum, 802.11ac – also known as Wi-Fi 5 – was approved in 2013. This standard provides higher transfer rates, boosted reliability, and lower power consumption. These improvements have allowed for previously inaccessible usage scenarios, such as lower-latency gaming and simultaneous HD video streaming within the same wireless network.

802.11ac Wi-Fi is backward compatible with the prior 802.11 protocol standards (namely 802.11n, 802.11g, 802.11b, and 802.11a). This means that, although an 802.11ac 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 also offer 802.11ac Wi-Fi support.

Despite 1.3 Gbps (gigabits per second) being promoted as the 802.11ac wireless standard data transfer rate (far exceeding the previous version's 0.45 Gbps), users should keep in mind that advertised speeds are rarely – if ever – achieved in real-world situations. Still, there's every reason to celebrate the astonishing speed increase. One of the causes of this development is the growing number of antennas supported by 802.11ac. Another improvement factor is known as "beamforming": while previous 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, but 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.

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