It was just over a year ago that we first got excited about the prospect of gigabit-speed wireless networking. And then had our high hopes quickly dashed after finding the familiar marketing baloney that overstates wireless speeds.
To recap, router makers print the sync-rate- rather than the data-transfer speed on the box. There are other technical reasons, but some would suggest that any company which promises 300Mb/s throughput via 802.11n 2.4GHz is seriously overdue a visit from the Trading Standards officer. I couldn’t possibly comment.
As we see in so many other aspects of the PC industry – over promise, under deliver – the latest 802.11ac protocol is also victim to the same false advertising. Understand this, and the second generation of 802.11ac routers we've tested don’t look so bad.
Some companies have perhaps wisely stopped making ludicrous claims for ‘gigabit wireless’ and instead reverted to ‘three times faster than 802.11n’, which is about right. And let’s just accept that around 450Mb/s real-world speed is nice to have - especially when that kind of speed can be maintained at a distance where 802.11n would have us waltzing around the room looking for signal.
Yet client devices - all our laptops, mobile phones and tablets, with the exception of the HTC One and Apple MacBooks - are still resolutely stuck at 802.11n, more than a year after the first 802.11ac wireless routers appeared on the high street.
Is this because the protocol remains in draft form? Unlikely. After all, that didn’t stop 802.11n, which spent its first five years in draft form, achieving widespread use.
The slow rollout of 802.11ac is also because, for most people, the current wireless standard is good enough. In the same way that people won’t upgrade ageing PCs that still mostly do what they’re told, there’s less compulsion to jump to the next wireless bandwagon.
Read more about what’s possible with today’s best wireless routers.