Broadcom expects widely supported faster Wi-Fi next year

Broadcom, one of the biggest wireless chip makers, is expecting a new form of Wi-Fi to arrive next year to make wireless networking faster, more battery efficient, and longer range.

The new version of Wi-Fi wireless networking is called 802.11ac, and it can operate at a speed of around 1.3 gigabits per second, or three or four times the speed of the high-speed Wi-Fi available today, 802.11n.

Rahul Patel, vice president in the mobile and wireless group at the Irvine, Calif.-based chip design firm, said that the new standard has broad support from hardware makers and chip makers. That means that new products using 802.11ac could arrive in the market in the second half of 2012. That’s going to be a big help as users take to wireless in the home and elsewhere more and more.

“802.11ac solves the challenge of the media explosion,” Patel said in a press event in San Francisco today. The event focuses on trends that will be evident at the big industry trade event, the Consumer Electronics Show, in January.

People need this better connectivity because they go through connectivity withdrawal without it. In a survey conducted by Broadcom, about 35 percent of 1,025 people said they experience “connectivity withdrawal.” Of the group that experiences withdrawal, 17 percent said they experience it on a daily basis. Also, about 87 percent of consumers now use more than 10 hours of digital content per week, according to another survey.

The 802.11ac protocol is compatible with earlier versions of Wi-Fi. Like 802.11n, it taps into the less-crowded 5 gigahertz band of the wireless spectrum. Earlier Wi-Fi protocols used the crowded 2.4 gigahertz band, which suffers interference from other appliances. The 802.11n protocol uses both bands, as does 802.111ac.

The 802.11ac uses new modulation techniques to get to higher data rates. It uses “beam forming” to get to a higher range, almost double that of 802.11n, which reaches about 100 meters. So 802.11ac might reach 200 meters in range from a wireless access point. It has about three times the throughput at 802.11n on an 80 megahertz wireless channel and 256 QAM modulation, Patel said. With 160 megahertz and 256 QAM modulation, the improvement is four-fold. It also won’t use as much battery life, and Patel said that the cost of the Wi-Fi chips would be lower than that of rival, shorter-range chips using the Wireless HDMI wireless standard.

As for interference, Patel said, “The coexistence has been worked out.”