The new standard allows for frequencies above 1 Gigabit, which is about three times the speed of 802.11n (the current standard) and about the same as a good wired network. Along with the increased speed, we can also expect better range and greater power efficiency – which is good news for anyone who likes to operate unplugged.
Apple products that are expected to be 802.11ac compatible include new Airport base stations, Time Capsule, Apple TV, MacBooks, and MacBook Pros – it is reportedly possible that the technology will be implemented in Apple’s mobile devices as well.
You can expect to see 802.11ac picked up by most other manufacturers. The finalization of the standard is nearing completion and a number of manufacturers have begun to issue chipsets that support 802.11ac. It is coming, and it is coming soon.
So is it time to upgrade wireless infrastructure? That really depends on how you use your network. If you transfer a lot of files between computers or stream video between your devices then there is a possibility that you are approaching the limit of your network’s capabilities. Still, the network is only as fast as the devices that run on it – so you can probably hold off until you upgrade your notebook, but there is a compelling argument for adopting the standard early.
With 802.11n the adoption process took a bit of time – initially the new technology was a good deal more expensive and the number of devices that supported was relatively small. Now, pretty much everything except the Amazon Kindle (the reader, not the Kindle Fire tablet) is 802.11n. The obvious difference between now and then is the number of wireless devices that have found their way into our homes. If you have the infrastructure, the devices will come – and the old wireless router does not need to go to waste: you can put it on bridge mode and use it to run a guest network.