New Wi-Fi standard won't replace Ethernet

Next iteration of Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac, promises faster speed and higher data transfer rate but will complement, not eliminate, wired Internet connections, analysts note.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

The next evolution of Wi-Fi standard--802.11ac--promises faster wireless connection speed and higher data transfer rate than its predecessor, and will boost video distribution and uploading and downloading of large files. However, it will not replace Ethernet completely due to the cheaper cost of wired connections, analysts noted.

Gregory Potter, analyst at research firm NPD In-Stat, said the new specification boasts several advantages over the existing 802.11n standard. These include faster aggregate connection speed of over 1Gbps as well more power savings when used on mobile devices, he stated.

Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director at Wi-Fi Alliance, added that 802.11ac operates in the less-used 5GHz frequency band, which makes it a compelling option to expand home Wi-Fi networks' capacity as consumers increasingly adopt connected mobile devices and use data-hungry apps.

The new standard also achieves higher throughput by extending the air interface concepts used by 802.11n such as wider radio frequency (RF) bandwidth, more MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output) spatial streams, and high-density modulation, commented Filomena Berardi, senior Wi-Fi analyst at IMS Research.

In terms of compelling use cases for the new Wi-Fi specification, Potter identified video distribution as one such example.

"Imagine having your cable box wirelessly feeding video [content] to TVs in other rooms within the house," he said, adding that large file transfers from mobile devices to home computers could also benefit.

Davis-Felner noted both consumer and enterprise products will receive a boost from the new specification. "Devices ranging from laptops, tablets, printers to TVs, home appliances and smartphones will see benefits in performance and bandwidth capacity as well as take advantage of less crowded frequencies," she explained.

The enhanced new specification will not completely replace enterprises' need for Ethernet, though, but complement it, said Berardi.

Potter added that small and home offices (SOHO) have largely led the trend of Wi-Fi replacing Ethernet for years now and, with the new specification, he expects this trend to extend to large-sized businesses.

There will still be companies opting to use Ethernet cables due its lower costs and a lot of office buildings are already wired for Ethernet, he said. It is also more economical for companies with growing staff numbers to opt for wired connections, he added.

Consumers need convincing
The NPD In-Stat analyst said the research firm had earlier predicted there will be 700 million 802.11ac devices shipped by 2015. During the initial phase, though, manufacturers will face challenges in convincing consumers to adopt new networking gear, he stated.

That said, there will always be consumers who want the "latest and greatest" tech gadgets and this demographic will be the one driving initial adoption.

Davis-Felner noted that the industry standard for 802.11ac is still being developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) currently, and is expected to be completed in 2013. She added that Wi-Fi Alliance expects to see devices certified with the specification in late-2012 or early 2013, with higher uptake of these devices from next year onward.

Editorial standards