Wi-Fi Alliance kicks off 11ac certification
Samsung and Cisco first in line to have products approved for interoperability under the high speed Wi-Fi standard
Published: 20 June, 2013
The Wi-Fi Alliance has kicked off its certification program for the latest commercially implemented WLan standard, 802.11ac, which is already appearing in some products in pre-certified form as demand for gigabit-plus Wi-Fi speeds rises.
The first end user products to get Alliance certification were four Samsung handsets - the Mega 6.3, followed by two other Mega variants and the Galaxy Active - while Cisco was the first vendor to win the kitemark for a router (apart from companies supplying testbed equipment).
Commercial devices featuring the high speed extension to 802.11 have been around for most of this year, but as the Alliance's program management director, Kelly Davis-Felner, told IDG, the certification process cannot be established until there are commercial products available to test. And even this program is ahead of the true standard and is technically based on a pre-standard version of 11ac. The IEEE will finalize those specifications late this year or early in 2014, at which point vendors and the Alliance may have to update their platforms - though changes are expected to be minimal and deliverable in software.
This reflects a pattern set by the Alliance almost a decade ago, when it recognized how far official standards body processes were lagging behind market demand for high speed wireless. It took the reins initially in areas such as Wi-Fi security, and later in the main radio platform itself, developing and approving subsets of the IEEE specs, tied to commercial requirements, and setting up certification initiatives ahead of official standardization. That accelerated the process of bringing new technologies to market, while offering the reassurance of a broad program to ensure interoperability and prevent the fast wireless sector from fragmenting between proprietary offerings.
In 2007, for instance, the Alliance produced the 'Draft N' spec, ahead of the IEEE's completion of the full 802.11n standard. In effect, the latest testing activity is 'Draft AC', though it does not carry that name.
The tests will concentrate on 11ac features which are already locked down and others will be added to the certification profiles after IEEE approval. For instance, the full specs will support wide 156MHz channels, but current devices can only support up to 80MHz, so the Alliance tests do not currently go beyond that width.
First wave 11ac products support peak speeds of 433Mbps and later iterations will boost this beyond a gigabit - Wave 4 gadgets will reach 3.46Gbps in 160MHz channels, though this will take some years to become commercially available, and some vendors question whether there will be sufficient demand. However, Quantenna and others are already demonstrating chips for Wave 2, which can deliver 1.73Gbps in wide channels.
The Alliance has opened testing facilities in nine labs around the world and has pre-certified device reference designs, routers and chipsets from companies like Broadcom, Qualcomm, Realtek and Marvell, which now form the testbed for certifying end user devices. Cisco was the first vendor outside the testbed to get an 11ac router certified.
Davis-Felner said in the IDG report: "11ac is going into mobile and portable devices first, which is really different from the last time around" - 802.11n turned up initially in laptops and modems and came to smartphones slowly, a contrast that reflects the growing use of handsets for Wi-Fi and broadband access.