2013 in Wi-Fi: 802.11ac in volume while 802.11ad silicon starts to ship

At the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, lots of announcements about 802.11ac chipsets were made. But over the past year actual shipments of consumer products with the high-speed Wi-Fi technology were fairly small.

That’s about to change.

I expect to see fairly decent volumes of consumer products over the next 12 months with the 1 Gbps wireless technology, with the biggest driver of volumes coming from laptops and routers. I also expect that we’ll also start to see smartphones and TVs with the 1 Gbps technology this year, particularly as chipmakers like Broadcom and Marvell bring out a new generation of chipsets optimized for mobile devices and TV devices.

One interesting side effect of 802.11ac’s ramp will be the relegation of 802.11n and Bluetooth to the 2.4 GHz band. While most 802.11n products in the market today are using dual-band chipsets (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz), the relatively uncluttered space in the 5 GHz band is going to become primarily used by the higher-speed 802.11ac. The thinking here is the two bands will be specifically targeted for different use cases: 2.4 GHz for less critical, less low-latency traffic, while 5 GHz will be mostly for low-latency traffic dependent on having a better quality of service.

And what about 60 GHz and WiGig? With the just-announced completion of the 802.11ad standard by the IEEE (and the endorsement of the WiGig alliance, which is being absorbed by the Wi-Fi Alliance), I expect silicon compliant with the standard to start shipping late this year and products to begin shipping next year. WiGig/802.11ad is largely directional and not a whole-home technology, so it will largely be used for docking and for HDMI replacement.

And in 2015? Expect tri-band chipsets, with 802.11n (2.4 GHz), 802.11ac (5 GHz), and 802.11ad (60 GHz) in one single piece of silicon.