Video streaming gets a boost with new 802.11ac routers

The technology is also making its way into TVs and smartphones

New 802.11ac routers launching at International CES promise users gigabit-speeds and better performance when streaming video.

Since last year's CES, 802.11ac -- which is the latest in IEEE's family of WLAN standards -- has gone from a new technology to mainstream in wireless routers. The underlying standard is still under development, but that has not prevented vendors from putting out a growing number of products.

At CES 2013, vendors like Belkin, D-Link, Linksys and newcomer Securifi have all introduced wireless routers compatible with 802.11ac.

Belkin announced two routers, the AC1800 DB, the AC750, which will cost US$179.99 and $89.99. The AC1800 DB is Belkin's most advanced router and is available now, according to the company. Besides a faster network users will get an integrated media server and Simple Start, which is a browser-based setup interface that streamlines the installation process.

D-Link's Gaming Router (or DGL-5500) will start shipping in the late spring and at that time pricing will also be announced. One of the router's main features is Qualcomm's StreamBoost, which will improve video streaming and gaming performance by prioritizing that traffic, the chip maker said last week.

Linksys' most advanced router is now the Smart Wi-Fi Router AC 1750 HD Video Pro, which has been designed for homes that want to stream HD video and have 10 or more connected devices. To make home networks easier for consumers to monitor and control, Linksys is also introducing "a smart network map," the company said. The map will show a visual representation of the home network and all of the connected devices to give users information about network connectivity and current bandwidth usage, allowing them to easily control devices and resolve potential issues, according to Linksys. The router will ship in the spring; no pricing was announced.

Linksys and Belkin say their best routers are capable of up to 1.3G bps using the 5GHz band, and 450M bps and 300M bps, respectively, using the 2.4GHz band. What that means in the real world remains to be seen.

Securifi is taking a bit of a different approach with its router. The company is showing its Almond+ to the public for the first time at CES, which besides higher speeds using 802.11ac also includes a number of home automation features thanks to integrated support for Zigbee and Z-Wave. Users will be able to turn on and off heating, control lights and receive a notification if a door or window is opened, Securifi said. It plans to run a campaign on Kickstarter to fund the production of the Almond+, allowing users to buy the product for $99.

But while 802.11ac is becoming a more mainstream technology it is also still very much under development, and those improvements will help boost performance going forward.

Quantenna Communications is demonstrating a chipset that improves performance by using four streams or antennas to receive and four to send data, a configuration that is referred to as simply 4x4, using 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Sending and receiving data using multiple antennas is possible thanks to a technology called MIMO (Multiple-Input Multiple-Output), which is already used in Wi-Fi and LTE networks. The antenna configuration will, for example, help improve the quality of video streaming, allowing users to send multiple high-definition video streams to anywhere within a Wi-Fi network at full, 1080p resolution, according to Quantenna. The chipset is also a good fit for operators that want to use Wi-Fi to offload their mobile networks.

At CES, Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon 800 series, which will make it possible to have 802.11ac in smartphones and tablets. It combines 802.11ac and LTE, and the first high-end mobile devices based on the design will start shipping in the second half of the year, the company said.

Qualcomm isn't the only chip maker working to put 802.11ac in smartphones. Last year Broadcom announced the BCM4335, which in addition to 802.11ac also supports Bluetooth 4.0 and FM radio.

At CES, Broadcom also announced that it can integrate 802.11ac into set-top boxes for IPTV, and said that LG Electronics will use one of its chipsets to integrate the technology into its 2013 lineup of TVs to improve video streaming performance.

Despite the harsh economic situation, sales of WLAN equipment are growing rapidly, thanks to interest from service providers and enterprises. Vendors posted revenue growth of 19 percent during the third quarter compared to the same period in 2011, which was enough to set a record, according to market research company Dell'Oro Group.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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