Wi-Fi ac, also known as 802.11ac, is a dual band wireless standard that operates on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands. This allows Wi-Fi ac routers and devices to take advantage of higher speeds and less interference compared to single band Wi-Fi networks operating solely on the often crowded 2.4GHz band.The benefits of dual band Wi-Fi ac
Dual band Wi-Fi ac provides numerous advantages over single band wireless:
- Faster speeds – Wi-Fi ac can deliver faster wireless network speeds, with maximum theoretical throughput speeds up to 6.93 Gbps on the 5GHz band versus just 600 Mbps on 2.4GHz. Real-world speeds will be lower but faster than Wi-Fi n.
- Less interference – The 5GHz frequency band is less crowded than 2.4GHz, resulting in less interference from neighboring Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth devices. This leads to more reliable connections.
- Backwards compatibility – Wi-Fi ac routers maintain backwards compatibility with older client devices on the 2.4GHz band using earlier Wi-Fi standards. This allows you to migrate devices to Wi-Fi ac gradually.
Dual band Wi-Fi ac routers intelligently manage traffic between the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands to optimize performance based on device capabilities and network conditions. Newer dual band client devices with Wi-Fi ac support can connect over 5GHz to maximize throughput speeds when in close proximity to the router. Legacy single band devices can still connect over the 2.4GHz frequency to access the network.
Wi-Fi ac speeds and channels
Wi-Fi ac operates on both the 2.4GHz band with traditional 20MHz-wide channels as well as wider 80MHz and 160MHz channels on 5GHz for faster data rates:
- 2.4GHz – Offers compatibility for older 1, 2, and 3 stream client devices with 20MHz channels (up to 600Mbps with 3 spatial streams)
- 5GHz, 80MHz – Supports speeds up to 1.3Gbps with 3 spatial streams
- 5GHz, 160MHz – Enables maximum speeds of up to 6.93Gbps with 8 spatial streams
Real-world speeds are typically 50-60% of the maximum physical data rates. Wi-Fi ac performance and coverage on 5GHz varies depending on network traffic volume and distance from the wireless router or access point.
Additional Wi-Fi ac capabilities
Beyond faster baseline speeds and dual band support, Wi-Fi ac delivers a number of wireless performance enhancements:
- Beamforming – Allows directional signal focusing towards client devices rather than radiating the signal in all directions
- Multi-user MIMO – Enables simultaneous data transmission to multiple clients for increased bandwidth efficiency
- 256 QAM modulation – Support for encoding more data bits in the same radio signal for faster speeds
- Better performance in dense deployment environments like airports, stadiums and other public venues
Wi-Fi ac maintains interoperability with previous Wi-Fi standards so you can gradually upgrade your network devices over time without having to do it all at once.
- Wi-Fi ac is a dual band wireless standard that operates on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands
- Dual band operation enables faster speeds with less interference and congestion
- Wi-Fi ac routers provide backwards compatibility with older Wi-Fi a/b/g/n client devices on 2.4GHz
- New capabilities like beamforming, MU-MIMO, 256 QAM improve overall wireless network efficiency and performance
- Wi-Fi ac maintains compatibility with earlier versions of Wi-Fi for gradual network upgrades
Dual band Wi-Fi ac represents a major leap forward in Wi-Fi technology, bringing faster wireless network speeds and greater network efficiency through innovations like beamforming and multi-user MIMO. With the dual band capabilities, Wi-Fi ac also provides a way to migrate more network traffic to the less crowded 5GHz channels over time to help alleviate congestion issues on 2.4GHz networks. This makes it an ideal wireless standard for home and office networks with dense deployments of wireless devices. The backwards compatibility ensures older devices can still connect as you transition to Wi-Fi ac at your own pace.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the difference between Wi-Fi ac and Wi-Fi 5?
A: Wi-Fi ac and Wi-Fi 5 are two different names for the same 802.11ac wireless standard. Wi-Fi 5 is the simpler model number while Wi-Fi ac is the official name used in the 802.11 industry standards.
Q: Is Wi-Fi ac the same as 5GHz Wi-Fi?
A: No, Wi-Fi ac operates on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands. The dual band operation lets devices choose the best band to connect with.
Q: Is Wi-Fi ac backwards compatible?
A: Yes, Wi-Fi ac maintains backwards compatibility with 802.11a/b/g/n networks on the 2.4GHz band so older devices can still connect.
Q: Do all Wi-Fi ac devices support 160MHz channels?
A: No, 160MHz channel support depends on the device capabilities. To achieve maximum Wi-Fi speeds over 1 Gbps, client devices need to support 160MHz along with other Wave 2 AC features.
Q: Will Wi-Fi ac work with my older smartphone or laptop?
A: Yes, you can connect older 802.11a/b/g/n client devices to the 2.4GHz band on a dual band Wi-Fi ac router or access point. Just don’t expect to see faster Wi-Fi ac speeds.
Q: What is MU-MIMO?
A: Multi-user MIMO enables a Wi-Fi router or access point to transmit data to multiple clients simultaneously rather than having to send data to clients one-by-one in a round robin approach. This helps increase overall wireless network efficiency and capacity.
Q: Is Wi-Fi ac worth upgrading to from my older Wi-Fi?
A: In most cases, yes it makes sense to upgrade to take advantage of faster speeds, less congestion and better wireless coverage – especially if you have newer client devices with Wi-Fi ac support. Upgrading your router or access point is often less expensive than buying all new client devices.
Q: What is beamforming and how does it help Wi-Fi ac?
A: Beamforming is a signal focusing technique used by Wi-Fi ac routers and devices to concentrate wireless signals directly towards associated clients rather than blasting the signal out in all directions. This preserves signal strength for better coverage indoors and out.
Q: Why does Wi-Fi ac use such wide channels compared to older wireless standards?
A: By bonding together adjacent channels to create a wider overall channel, for example 80MHz or even 160MHz wide, much more data can be transmitted at one time. Wider channels are a key ingredient enabling the gigabit+ speeds that Wi-Fi ac can deliver.
Q: Can I run 802.11ac on the 2.4GHz band?
A: No, 802.11ac is only designed to operate on the 5GHz band which is less crowded and offers many more available channels. The 2.4GHz channels on dual band Wi-Fi ac routers and access points are limited to older 802.11n technology.
Q: Does Wi-Fi ac support implicit beamforming in addition to explicit beamforming?
A: Yes, while Wi-Fi ac does offer explicit beamforming for better coordination and multi-user transmissions, it also supports implicit beamforming for legacy client devices that don’t have explicit beamforming capabilities.
Q: Why does Wi-Fi ac use more antennas than older wireless standards?
A: By using as many as eight antennas for sending and receiving data with advanced MIMO smart antenna technology, Wi-Fi ac can support faster multi-stream transmissions enabling maximum throughput speeds over 1 Gbps.
Q: Can I use 80MHz channels for Wi-Fi ac networks in apartment buildings?
A: 80MHz channels generally work fine for apartment deployment since they are still directional enough to minimize interference between units. But 160MHz channels are not recommended due to increased signal bleed between apartments that can cause interference.
Q: What is 256 QAM modulation?
A: 256 QAM is an advanced modulation technique that encodes more data bits per transmitted OFDM signal. By enabling more bits per symbol, the efficiency of the radio link is improved, resulting in higher data rates.
Q: Is it better to get a Wi-Fi ac router or a Wi-Fi 6 router?
A: Wi-Fi 6 delivers faster speeds and greater efficiency. But Wi-Fi ac routers are generally less expensive and still offer excellent performance. So unless you have demanding applications or lots of clients, Wi-Fi ac is often the smarter choice to save money.