802.11ac in the Residence – It’s More About the Range Than the Rate

While Netgear’s latest .11ac product blurs the boundary between enterprise-class features and residential-class value with amazing technology at a bargain price, it’s fair to ask if residential users, quite unlike their enterprise counterparts, really need 1.3 Gbps.

The announcement of the Netgear R7000 802.11ac router that I recently mentioned led to an interesting conversation with Netgear staff about what's really going on with 802.11ac in the residence. The marketing is all about 1.3 Gbps and video, gaming, and similar applications, but let's face it - with Internet backhaul likely on the order of 50 Mbps or (often much) less in the vast majority of cases, and video and gaming requiring nothing like gigabit-class throughput, 1.3 Gbps, which will likely, BTW, result in no better than 500 Mbps at Layer-7 in any given case, and that assuming .11ac on both ends, of course, isn't at all a very significant number. Nor can an argument be made that transfers internal to the residence at that rate will drive adoption. And even with a dozen or more active users, which would indeed be unusual in most households, 450-Mbps .11n would likely be plenty - and the R7000 offers 600 Mbps (again, in a non-standard mode) at 2.4 Gbps alone.

So what, then, will drive .11ac in the residence, apart from low prices for equipment and the eventual standardization on .11ac in client devices? Well, those two factors alone should be pretty sufficient here, but the icing on the cake is the improved rate-vs.-range performance that accrues with beamforming. I've noticed this with .11n APs equipped with beamforming that I use here at Farpoint Group. Until the advent of .11ac, these have been the very best in our arsenal. Rate vs. range is the key metric in wireless, not rate alone - which, by itself, is meaningless. And given the inherent vagaries and variability in wireless, anything that can be done to improve path reliability is, more often than not, important.

So, then, it's not about 1.3 Gbps in the residence. It's about being able to reach the back bedroom. This is, of course, not to denigrate the many sophisticated features of the R7000 in any way, and I'll have a review of this product in the upcoming 2013 Network World Holiday Gift Guide.

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