September 12, 2012, 11:48 AM — It's a tricky time to be in the market for a new wireless router. The safe bet is buy a model based on the tried-and-true, rock-solid 802.11n standard--and I recommend that you adopt that course if you're looking for a new router for your small business. Consumers, on the other hand, may fall in love with the blistering speed and phenomenal range that routers based on the second draft of the 802.11ac standard deliver.
The performance of each of the five 802.11ac routers that I tested for this story overwhelms the performance of the Asus RT-N66U, which may be the best 802.11n router on the market today. Looking to stream high-definition video over your wireless network? Using an 802.11ac router, I streamed a Blu-ray video ISO image--complete with high-definition Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD Master Audio multichannel soundtrack--from a server in my home office to a bridge-connected PC in my home theater, an acoustically isolated room that some lesser-quality 802.11n routers can't even penetrate, much less stream media into. I experienced no glitches and no dropouts.
But 802.11ac Draft 2.0 won't crystallize into a bona fide standard until sometime next year. We went through a similar routine as the 802.11n standard went through its final stages. Back then, however, the Wi-Fi Alliance (an industry trade group) assured consumers that all products based on the 802.11n Draft 2.0 standard and bearing the alliance's logo would be compatible with hardware based on the final standard--as well as with each other. The Wi-Fi Alliance offers no such assurances this time around.