You know how sometimes you look back at the days before we had, say, the DVR or the ATM or email or the Web, and you asked, "How did I manage to get along without that?"
You're going to feel that way in a few years about Wi-Fi.
Three paradigm-shifting changes are coming that will radically alter how we wirelessly connect at and away from home – and may eliminate the need for cellular networks or data and maybe even voice altogether.
These Wi-Fi changes are:
- Gigabit Wi-Fi
- Hotspot 2.0
- Super Wi-Fi
There are three reasons why we want this new Wi-Fi world as soon as possible.
1. Faster: Current Wi-Fi delivers data wirelessly around 300 times faster than current 4G cellular networks – that's kind of like the difference between taking a rocket to a moon and making the lunar excursion in your family SUV. Any data you need – loading Web pages, emailing a photo to a friend or the cloud, downloading music or video, even uploading HD video you shoot with your smart phone or perfect video chatting – all happens hundreds of times faster and more efficiently with Wi-Fi than with 4G.
Wi-Fi is about to get more than three times faster.
2. More available. As you may have noticed, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile all have junked their unlimited data plans – carriers are simply running out of spectrum to deal with all the Web surfing and photo emailing we're doing on 3G and 4G networks.
Soon you'll be able to connect to a Wi-Fi network as easily as you connect to a cellular network today – it just happens. As we automatically connect more frequently to Wi-Fi, we alleviate this spectrum pressure and end not only the need for these cellular data caps, but you may not even need the 3G or 4G cellular networks for data at all. It'll be all Wi-Fi, all the time, everywhere.
3. Larger. Wi-Fi hotspots are tiny, a few hundred feet at most.
New Super Wi-Fi will create hotspots measured not in feet, but in miles.
Now onto the three changes that could bring about this Wi-Fi utopia.
Wi-Fi currently comes in three speed flavors (all theoretical top speeds; actual data delivery is actually much slower), all bearing the technical designation 802.11:
- 802.11b, which delivers data at top theoretical speeds of 11 megabits per second (Mbps);
- 802.11g at transmits data at 54 Mbps; and
- 802.11n at 300 Mbps and which is what most of today's Wi-Fi gadgets include.
Today's 4G cellular networks, by comparison, deliver data at between 6-12 Mbps. They may someday reach 100 Mbps.
Gigabit Wi-Fi, aka 802.11ac, aka Very High Throughput, however, boosts wireless data speeds up to 1.3 gigabits per second (Gbps) or 1300 Mbps – more than 1,000 times faster than current cellular 4G.
According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, the Wi-Fi industry's standards group, technical work on 802.11ac should be done by the end of this year. But as has been the case when previous Wi-Fi standards have been released, router makers will likely jump the gun and introduce pre-certified products before long.
For instance, rumors are flying that Apple's next-gen laptops will include 802.11ac capabilities.
Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint
Just about a year ago, I told you about what was then called Hotspot 2.0 ("Easy-to-Connect Wi-Fi Everywhere On the Way"). Here's an update.
In short, instead of sorting through a list of available Wi-Fi hotspots, and figuring out which ones are safe and secure, remembering passwords, or dealing with the digital rigmarole of interstitial Web pages to input a credit card number or just sign in to manually connect, Hotspot 2.0 will completely automate Wi-Fi connectivity, making the process as invisible and ubiquitous as cellular roaming.
Like 802.11ac, what is now officially dubbed Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint is also being developed for worldwide deployment by the Wi-Fi Alliance, aided and abetted by the Wireless Broadband Alliance(WBA), which coordinates international cellular roaming partnerships – i.e., you get off a plane and your cell phone just connects to a local network without you doing anything or getting a separate bill from that local carrier. WBA's Passpoint partnerships now will also include cellular carriers, cable TV operators, private Wi-Fi service providers, Wi-Fi infrastructure equipment companies and mobile device makers.
Fees for Passpoint connectivity will simply be included in your current cell or cable bill, depending on whom you sign up with for service.
And your current phone likely can be updated to access these new Wi-Fi Passpoint networks. You won't need a new phone.
Passpoint field trials already have begun and certification standards are likely to be issued later this summer. Market-by-market rollout of Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint hotspots is expected to start in the fall, with international Passpoint hotspot ubiquity likely within three years.
But these Passpoint hotspots will provide only the usual geographically-impaired Wi-Fi coverage, usually no more than around 200 feet in optimum indoor conditions, maybe 800 feet outdoors.
Under development is a technology called Super Wi-Fi, which could create indoor hotspots with five times the range of current 802.11n, or outdoor hotspots that could stretch over – wait for it – 40 miles.
The trade-off is Super Wi-Fi connections would be a bit slower than the current 802.11n routers.
Unlike Passpoint, you'll initially need a Super Wi-Fi dongle or adapter to enable your current wireless gear – laptops, primarily – to connect. But you should be able to buy a dual-mode Wi-Fi 802.11ac/Super Wi-Fi home router in early 2014.
Once these three Wi-Fi leaps are grouped together, we may not even need cellular connections – you'll be able to use Skype or Wi-Fi to make phone calls or even video chat – as normally as we make cell calls today.
And with such potentially large Wi-Fi hotspots, there may be few places on the globe where you'll be unable to wirelessly and speedily communicate with the rest of the world.