What New In WiFi

If you have gotten caught up in holiday shopping and have laptops or tablets on your list of things to buy, you may be noticing sales pitches pushing the new 802.11ac wireless. The first thing to come to mind for most shoppers is, what is that and if it is new, what do I have now and do I need to upgrade? Let’s take a look and answer these questions for you.

First, what is 802.11ac? This number refers to a standard developed by the IEEE, which is an electrical engineering society that has branched out to include a lot of different technologies and serves as the organization that sets the standards for a lot of those technologies. In the case of wireless networks, the 802.11 standard makes it easier for different manufacturers to make products that work with each other since they all have to perform in a certain way to meet the standard. The good news for consumers is there is less hassle since we do not need to check if a certain router works with our laptops, they should all just work together. The newer 802.11ac standard follows the 802.11n, 802.11g, 802.11b and 802.11a standards that came before it. In all cases, the devices and routers typically work with each other so that an older 802.11b device will still work with an 802.11ac router (only 802.11a works in its own world). The biggest difference between each is the newer ones are usually faster and have a wider range than previous standards. If you are curious about the history of the wireless standards and want to know the differences between them, About Technology has published an article that breaks them down.

That brings us to what do you have now and do you need to upgrade? Most likely, if you have purchased a new wireless router in the past 3-4 years, it is probably an 802.11n router. The good news is this is still pretty fast for even video on most devices so if you do not want to upgrade at this time, you can still use it as long as you wish. A god thing to keep in mind is that most manufacturers release what are known as draft devices, which are based on the draft standards and may not include all the options that are in the final standards. Earlier this year, PC World looked at this issue in regards to 802.11ac and made the suggestion to wait until the next wave of routers comes out in early 2015 to take advantage of some new features. The article does cover the differences so you can decide for yourself if you want to wait or get something new now. If you do opt to go with a new router, be sure to check out c|net’s recent article on the best 802.11ac routers for 2014, it is a nice collation of the site’s reviews on routers released this year. If you read the articles linked above, you may have also come across news that 802.11ac will be replaced by 802.11ax at some point over the next few years. While that may be true, at least you will know what to look for and can rest assured that the standards exit so that if you do buy that new 802.11ac laptop or tablet, you know it will still work on those new standards.

In other network news – IPv6. Another network topic you might be hearing about is IPv6, which is the “new” computer network numbering system. The “new” is in quotes because the system is actually ten years old and is just getting around to being adopted by internet providers. The older system, IPv4, has been used since the dawn of the internet and we are used to seeing its IP addresses in everything from our computers to our TVs. All of those gadgets in the world have brought the system to near capacity and the last addresses were given out in early 2011. While IPv4 addresses can be reused and are still being given out, they are getting closer to being a scarce item so internet providers are now moving to the IPv6 system. The good news is IPv6 has actually been around long enough to be supported in some way by Windows XP, so consumers do not have to worry about upgrading anything if their service provider switches over.

-Laura N.


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