One infrastructure segment to watch will be the carrier market. At least some mobile operators have been turning to and expanding use of Wi-Fi as a companion service for subscribers to use at least sometimes as an alternative to their cellular data plans. 802.11ac's faster data rates, capacity, improved signal quality and other features could trigger a rapid build-out of such services.
At about this same time, new models of mobile devices, as well as plug-in adapters, will start to appear, incorporating 802.11ac silicon. Redpine Signals, for example, announced a year ago the release of a 802.11ac chip for integration with smartphone-class processors. Smartphones and possibly tablets will almost certainly be limited to single-stream chips, with a maximum data rate (based on using 80-MHz-wide channels) of 433Mbps. Throughput will be much less, and will be reduced even more as more clients connect to the access point, and the distance grows between client and network.
PC World's Michael Brown evaluated the five available 802.11ac routers on the market in a September 2012 report. "We're talking real-world throughput of 400 to 500 megabits per second (mbps) at close range; that's twice the speed of the best 802.11n routers," he writes. "And at very long range, where most 5GHz 802.11n routers peter out, an 802.11ac router can deliver throughput of between 50 mbps and 100 mbps more than enough bandwidth to stream high-definition video."
Right now, without adapters, using these products is awkward: Brown had to use one 802.11ac router connecting wirelessly to a dedicated 802.11ac bridge or a second 802.11ac router configured as a bridge, with devices attached to the bridge by Ethernet cables.
But by mid-2013, you can wave goodbye to awkwardness and just revel in speed.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.