Three new Wi-Fi technologies — 802.11ac, Hotspot 2.0 (also known as Wi-Fi Certified Passpoint) and Super Wi-Fi — will provide faster, seamless, more widespread and more secure connectivity via mobile devices and wireless connections.
Here’s a look at what to expect, as well as insight on what it means for business:
1. More seamless mobile connections.
When you get off a plane, you turn your smartphone on and, voilà, you get service. This type of cellular roaming convenience is coming soon for Wi-Fi.
Instead of sorting through a list of available Wi-Fi hotspots figuring out which ones are safe and secure, remembering passwords or dealing with sign-in pages, Passpoint-certified Wi-Fi hotspots are expected to completely automate connectivity.
You won’t need new phones or tablets. Portable Wi-Fi devices will require only firmware, software or operating system updates to make them Passpoint compliant, says the Wi-Fi Alliance, an international nonprofit group shepherding Passpoint’s adoption and certification.
More widespread Wi-Fi should make travel communications easier. Employees could more easily access attachments and transfer documents, as well as avoid costly hotel Wi-Fi charges. Voice connections via VoIP also could save businesses on cellular costs.
The first Passpoint-certified Wi-Fi routers are expected to go on sale this July, and the first commercial Passpoint hotspots are expected this fall.
2. Faster Wi-Fi communications.
Today’s fastest Wi-Fi protocol is 802.11n, or just “n,” which provides theoretical data transfer speeds of around 300 megabits per second (Mbps).
Up next on the Wi-Fi speed chart is 802.11ac, alternately called “gigabit,” Very High Throughput Wi-Fi or fifth-generation (5G) Wi-Fi. By any name, 802.11ac Wi-Fi is expected to offer speeds of up to 1300 Mbps — potentially more than four times faster than current “n” routers and about 1,000 times faster than 4G LTE connectivity.
Expect the first gigabit Wi-Fi routers to go on sale this summer, likely for only a small price premium over current “n” routers.
3. Wi-Fi everywhere.
Even if gigabit Wi-Fi slightly expands Wi-Fi’s range, distance from the router will still be limited to a couple of hundred feet in optimal conditions, making wireless a hit-or-miss proposition.
Hotspots measured in miles rather than feet may be coming soon via a technology called Super Wi-Fi, which uses so-called TV white space, unused over-the-air spectrum recently approved by the FCC for commercial use.
A high-powered outdoor four-watt commercial transmitter could create a Super Wi-Fi hotspot stretching many miles.
Related: Three Low-Cost Ways to Keep Data Safe When Traveling for Business
The drawback is that Super Wi-Fi speeds tend to be slower than regular Wi-Fi. For example, the first Super Wi-Fi network in the U.S. launched in Wilmington, N.C., in January and offers speeds of just one to two Mbps over an area of between one and two miles. It’s faster than 3G but a crawl compared to any other Wi-Fi technology.
The first consumer Super Wi-Fi gear, including dual-mode standard Wi-Fi/Super Wi-Fi home routers, is due to go on sale in early 2014. Mobile equipment manufacturers are expected to begin building in Super Wi-Fi by the end of next year.
Over time, the combination of these three advances could create a global Wi-Fi blanket, with only a few spots on the planet where a Wi-Fi connection is not available.