802.11ac Does More for the Internet of Things Beyond Cloud Connections

Just adding a wireless connection to your device is not enough. Using the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, devices will not only have high-performance connectivity, but also achieve reliable, robust, and secure network connections.

The changing demands of connectivity are driving designers to choose long-term and robust solutions for their products including IEEE 802.11ac.


Figure 1: IEEE 802.11ac is demonstrating sustained value even as networking evolves.

Going beyond faster connection speeds, the 802.11ac standard addresses coverage, network capacity, battery life, interference, and security for Wi-Fi applications and the networks that serve them. Although it’s been around for about six years and mature now, 802.11ac continues to show its long-term value as networking environments change.

From IoT to Network of Everything Else
When the public first began connecting to the internet it was via desktop computers and laptops by way of Ethernet cables or dial-up modems. Then in 1997, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) developed the 802.11 wireless networking standard, commonly known as Wi-Fi. The introduction of Wi-Fi opened up the possibilities of how and where people could connect to the internet, but what Wi-Fi enables for us now is far different from when it first came to fruition.

Like all technological innovations, Wi-Fi faced some hurdles and iterations before it could be what it is today. One of the earliest standards, 802.11b, supported bandwidth up to 11 megabits per second (Mbps). 802.11b primarily served the home PC market, but as you can imagine, not much computing can be done at such a slow maximum speed. Additionally, 802.11b worked on the 2.4 GHz radio band, which experienced interference from household appliances like microwaves and cordless phones. This standard primarily supported basic web browsing and sending emails. Today’s standard, 802.11ac, achieves exponentially faster speeds of up to 1.3 gigabits per second (Gbps), and Wi-Fi is expected to get even faster.


Figures 2.1 and 2.2: Compared to Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), the IEEE 802.11ac standard consumes less energy to transfer data.

Figures 2.1 and 2.2: Compared to Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), the IEEE 802.11ac standard consumes less energy to transfer data.

Two decades after the introduction of the 802.11 standard, Wi-Fi is now considered the backbone of the Internet of Things ecosystem. We’re able to connect to the internet on more devices and use Wi-Fi for new applications consuming multimedia such as music and video streaming, gaming, sharing content on social media, sending instant messages and providing security, monitoring, and control of our homes.

A robust network infrastructure is needed to handle the proliferation of connected devices and their expanding applications. Yesterday Wi-Fi connected our smartphones, tablets and TVs; tomorrow it will connect everything else from our refrigerators to even our clothes to the cloud.

In an already crowded RF environment, 802.11ac enhances the infrastructure of wireless connectivity by increasing the overall network capacity to handle more simultaneous traffic using more non-overlapping channels. 802.11ac has wider channel bandwidths, up to 80 MHz, allowing data to transfer quickly so devices get their jobs done fast and leave more time for others to share the network. This bandwidth, paired with the 5 GHz band provides 802.11ac with more spectrum and less interference compared to the 2.4 GHz band in early 802.11 standards.

802.11ac also takes advantage of standardized beam-forming, which enhances coverage and range and strengthens the signal from the access point to the specific device.

More Data at Low-Power
With faster connection rates and higher capacity to handle more data transfers, 802.11ac reduces battery spending by using less total energy per each byte of data transfer. For example, with the 80 MHz channel bandwidth, it takes less than 150 joules of energy to transfer 10KB of data, whereas Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) would spend around 1,300 joules of energy for transferring the same amount of data.

The standard’s battery efficiency and faster throughput allows for tasks to be done faster. Just as important, 802.11ac connection rates let devices experience longer hibernation periods between operations for the most efficient Wi-Fi connected operations. These attributes lead to more network capacity, cleaner air, more reliable connections, and longer battery life.

Secure and Here to Stay
Although 802.11ac is not in all devices yet, it is here to stay. It is backwards-compatible with 802.11a and 5 GHz 802.11n so it can support older devices. 802.11ac can also coexist with other technologies such as BLE and Zigbee, which is ideal for mixed solutions with audio/video entertainment and data.

And 802.11ac offers the most advanced layers of local network security while still providing faster authentication, which in turn leads to faster acquisition time.

With 20.4 billion things forecast to be connected by 2020 and even more applications in use, the network will undoubtedly be densely populated and experience high demand requiring more bandwidth. 802.11ac is built to handle this growth. Its high capacity and wider channel bandwidths allow multiple devices to simultaneously connect to a network with faster throughput for downloads and high-quality video streaming. Additionally, 802.11ac helps free up congestion as its faster connection rates lead to less duration on the air to transfer data, meaning more “air time” for all.

Implementing 802.11ac will not solely offer increased speed. Rather, it’s a solution which addresses the IoT’s need for efficiency, security, low power, and robust connectivity.

Brian-BedrosianBrian Bedrosian is the VP of Marketing for IoT at Cypress Semiconductor, where he drives strategy for the company’s wireless Internet of Things business for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Combo chips and MCUs. He has 25 years of experience in digital communications and wireless technologies.

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