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Wi-Fi was MEANT to be this way: Antennas and standards, 802.11 style

Plus: Why your phone's (sometimes) crap at wireless

MIMO, mi-mas, mi-mat: Other handy Wi-Fi nuggets

Multi-user MIMO enables an access point to use the full capacity of the network by letting it talk to multiple targets at the same time. In our three-antenna scenario, it would allow the access point to use each antenna for a different device, or, perhaps one antenna for a phone and two antennas for a laptop. The Wi-Fi Alliance will have ratified that technology later this year.

There are other extensions to Wi-Fi worth noting that are either ratified or in the works. One of them is 802.11ad, now ratified, which was originally pushed by the WiGig Alliance, which subsequently merged into the Wi-Fi Alliance. It offers the same theoretical bandwidth as ac, but the biggest channel you can get on ac is 160Mhz – by bonding two 80Mhz channels together – while ad has a whopping four by 2.16GHz channels, bringing it closer to its theoretical limit.

Operating on the 60GHz band, too, means it lowers the transmission range but also reduces power draw for the equipment using it. Ad is a point-to-point wireless standard that will focus heavily on the audio-visual market, explained Eduardo José Ortego, a project manager at Telefónica I+D.

“The main disadvantage is the attenuation loss. You need to have the router in the same room as the TV,” he said. The higher the radio frequency, the shorter the range. So basically, operators will use this as a way to replace the rat’s nest of cables in the average home theatre system.

Also in the works is 802.11ax, also known as High-Efficiency Wireless (HEW), and it’s the IEEE’s attempt to squeeze more speed out of Wi-Fi within operating parameters. The only way to increase raw speed is by increasing signal-to-noise ratios – which requires more power – or by making the protocol more efficient.

“There's a limit to how good our signal/noise ratio can be, and therefore, there's essentially a maximum raw speed,” Gast said. “If we devote more of the time to transmitting data and less to overhead, the overall speed increases even though the raw speed doesn't.”

Other extensions coming down the pipe include 802.11mc, which will enhance device triangulation indoors between wireless access points, enabling precision indoor location tracking. Quite what that’ll do to technologies like Apple’s iBeacon remains to be seen.

802.11af will make use of white space for WLAN operation, and 802.11ah, which will operate on sub-1GHz frequencies for long-range communications that will make it particularly useful for Internet of Things-type applications.

These will all continue to push Wi-Fi to new heights. While not all of these standards will be displayed in ugly sticky labels on the side of your next laptop, some of them will nevertheless be a crucial part of your computing experiences in the years to come. ®

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