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In 2012, ABI Research predicted that the number of Wi-Fi devices shipped in 2012 would exceed 1.5 billion. That is only one market among many, including military, accounted for in the IEEE 802.11 standards. New standards—IEEE 802.11ac, af, ah, a, mc, aj, aq, and ak—are being developed with much higher data rates, streams, range, and more robust modulation methods. They are given the ability to reuse open white-space bands, enhance old standards, provide more maintenance channels, and otherwise prepare for the future. Here is a rundown of those newer standards:

IEEE 802.11ac, which will be formally added in 2014, operates in the 5-GHz bands with a 160-MHz bandwidth and eight data streams, thereby allowing data rates per stream to 1 Gb/s. It is predicted that the high-density modulation method of 256 quadrature amplitude modulation (256QAM) will be used with this standard to enhance the data rates per stream and operate with similar ranges to 802.11n.

IEEE 802.11ad, or WiGig, is a published standard that is being rushed to market in 2014 using the new 60-GHz band with theoretical maximums of 7 Gb/s per data stream. Due to the small wavelengths at 60 GHz, the range of 802.11ad devices will only exceed 10 m, with poor wall penetration. The goal is to use 802.11ad, 802.11ac, and 802.11n in a triband technology for the 2.4-, 5.0-, and 60.0-GHz bands. This approach will allow manufacturers to take advantage of all of the strengths of each standard while mitigating the negatives. Going forward, also keep an eye out for these standards:

IEEE 802.11af is the TV white space standard to be added in 2014.

IEEE 802.11ah is a sub-1-GHz sensor-network standard slated for 2016. It targets smart metering, where there are large groups of stations that share the band while minimizing energy consumption.

IEEE 802.11ai is a WLAN study group with the goal of standardizing fast initiallink-setup functions by 2015. It will enable WLAN clients to connect with a secure link setup within 100 ms.

IEEE 802.11mc will be the new maintenance standard in 2015.

IEEE 802.11aj is slated for China millimeter-wave use in 2016.

IEEE 802.11aq is a task group expected to develop an amendment that defines modifications to the 802.11 standards, enabling the delivery of pre-association service discovery information by stations by 2015.

IEEE 802.11ak is a task group created to explore the use of links as connections within bridged networks. This approach could increase the utility of connections between access points by removing limitations to in-traffic bridged networks.

Additional Resources

Official IEEE 802.11 Working Group Project Timelines.

Official IEEE 802.11 Wireless LAN Standards.

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