WiFi 802.11 ad vs ac: it’s a choice of speed over distance

Today almost everything from your smartphone, tablet, laptop, Blue ray, smart tv to your set-top box has a WiFi to enable wireless communication. And that’s a good thing; you get to avoid messy wiring around your living room or office which is cool. But you also now have full HD videos, movies, and pics which means need-for-speed is no longer a luxury.

WiFi 802.11 ac (Gigabit WiFi)

This is why wireless networks get faster. Current WiFi standard is 802.11 ac which has also been termed Gigabit WiFi simply because it has over 1 Gbits/s transfer speeds.  Released in December 2013 and succeeding  802.11 n, Gigabit Wifi or 802.11 ac operates in 5GHz frequency band only and has a range of only 35 m (115 ft). However, it’s common to find dual-band 802.11 ac  routers which operate in the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency range.

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The current 802.11 ac supports transfer speeds of up to 1.3 Gbps with 3 spatial streams. Things get even more interesting when you learn that IEEE 802.11ac specification is further divided into two certification phases; Wave 1 and Wave 2.  WiFi 802.11 ac Wave 2 announced by the WiFi alliance in 2015 supports an optional 160 MHz channel and MU-MIMO antenna formation which means you get speed boost of 2.34 Gbps (up from 1.3 Gbps) in the 5 GHz band.

Some of the 802.11 ac routers on the market include ASUS RT-AC51U Dual-band Router, Belkin F9K1113 Dual-Band WiFi AC+ Gigabit Router, Linksys EA6500, TP-LINK TL-WDR7500, Netgear R6300. They typically range from a price of $120-500 depending on the features.

WiFi 802.11 ad (WiGig)

TP-link Talon 7200 802.11 ad router

WiFi 802.11 ad also known as WiGig was developed by the Wireless Gigabit Alliance which was later merged into the mainstream body Wi-Fi Alliance in March 2013.  WiGig promises multi-gigabit per second speeds over unlicensed 60 GHz frequency band unlike 802.11 ac which works on 5Ghz band.

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If you want to stream full HD movies, 2k or even 4K video from your streaming box to your laptop or smart tv, then you want to get yourself a 802.11 ad or WiGig router. The 802.11 ad  standard achieves impressive theoretical speeds of 7 Gbps. However, be prepared for transfer speeds of about 4.6 Gbps in the real world situation. Of course you are better off with a tri-band enabled router which operates in 2.4, 5 and 60 GHz bands and is backward compatible so that even your older 802.11 b/g/n and ac devices can work.

WiFi 802.11 ac vs 802.11 ad comparison

WiFi 802.11 n/ac/ad comparison
802.11 n 802.11 ac802.11 ad
Release date Oct 2009Dec 2013Dec 2012
Band2.4 & 5GHz 5GHz 60GHz
Speeds450Mbps 1.3Gbps (wave1)
2.34--3.47 Gbps (wave2)
7 Gbps
Channel Width20,40 MHz 20,40,80,160 MHz 2,160 MHz
Range(Indoor)70 m (230 ft)35 m (115 ft) 3.3 m (11 ft)

Some of the 802.11 ad routers aka WiGig routers currently on the market include the Acelink BR-6774AD – AD7200 WLAN Concurrent Tri-Band Gigabit RouterNetgear R9000 – Nighthawk X10 – AD7200 Smart , WiFi Router, TP-LINK AD7200 (Talon) – AD7200 Multi-band Wi-Fi Router (802.11ac/ad). As you can tell, there are fewer 802.11 ad routers on the market than their 802.11 ac counterparts.

The other downside to WiGig is that while you achieve multi-gigabit speeds to stream 4K cat videos,  the 60 GHz signal can’t penetrate walls but could propagate off reflections from walls, ceilings, floors and objects using beamforming built into the WiGig system. WiGig also has a short range of only about 3m. So it’s best to use it within for instance a single room where there are not so many obstacles or walls.

There’s no doubt that 802.11 ac is a lot more popular than 802.11 ad, but if you are serious about very high wireless speeds over a short range, then you want to consider 802.11 ad. But if you want are good with simply Gigabit speeds over walls then 802.11 ac is your friend. If you want a mixture of both, remember that there are dual or even tri-band routers that support two or more standards at once.

Image: pickmyrouter.com