Wi-Fi: Apple to leap ahead again

January 23, 2012

Back in 1999, the original iBook was the first production, mass market computer to ship with 802.11b networking built in. Since then the company was the first major vendor to market with faster and faster versions of wi-fi. And, by that I mean Apple chose to ship months and sometimes year before the standards had been set and settled.

Apple’s first consumer/education notebook shipped in 1999 and broke a lot of new ground. From the durable construction and floppy-drive free design to its fruity iMac inspired styling and, of course, 802.11b (11Mbps) wi-fi networking, the clamshell (a.k.a. toilet seat) iBook was very much different and in many ways better than anything else on the market at the time.

Since then, Apple’s continued to lead by being the first to deliver highly polished, mass market computers and network peripherals with 802.11g (2003) and 802.11n (2007) built-in.

Although it’s been a long-time coming, Apple seems ready to leap ahead again. AppleInsider claims, without attribution, that upcoming Macs will ship with 802.11ac wifi, the 1 gigabit per second evolutionary successor to 802.11n.

The new 802.11ac standard achieves much faster wireless networking speeds than the existing 802.11n specification (in use on the latest Mac, AirPort and iOS devices) by using 2 to 4 times the frequency bandwidth (from 80 to 160MHz), more efficient data transfers through sophisticated modulation, and more antennas (up to 8; existing standards support up to 4, while Apple’s Macs currently use up to 3).

Steve Jobs in PT Barnum mode — it’s funny how impressive wi-fi was in 1999.

In addition to speeds up to 3X 802.11n, Gigabit Wi-Fi will deliver better range, more efficient chips and more reliable connections — it will be nice if it all works right out of the gate.

That said, long-time Apple network chip partner Broadcom announced 802.11ac silicon at CES 2012, which could mean shipping Macs with Gigabit Wi-Fi onboard.

An important feature for you or gigabit whatever just so much overkill for your already overloaded 3Mbps DSL connection?

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