Broadcom introduces first gigabit-speed 802.11ac chips

By on January 5, 2012, 10:06 AM

Broadcom is ushering in a new generation of Wi-Fi technology with the release of its first gigabit-speed 802.11ac chips. The company says the new chips are aimed at enabling higher-bandwidth services like HD movie streaming over wireless connections. They are up to three times faster, deliver 40 to 60 percent better range, and are up to six times more power efficient than similar 802.11n solutions.

Broadcom is marketing the technology as "5G Wi-Fi," though it's unclear if the networking industry will adopt the same terminology to promote 802.11ac.

Broadcom's family of 802.11ac chips cover everything from high-end routers and PCs to small USB dongles. The lineup is comprised by the BCM4360, BCM4352, BCM43526, and BCM43516. All of these chips share a number of common features, as detailed in the press release:

  • 80 MHz channel bandwidth that is 2 times wider than current 802.11n solutions
  • 256-QAM, a higher modulation scheme that increases data transfer efficiency
  • Transmit and receive beamforming (helps increase wireless range, penetration, and data rates)
  • Low Density Parity Check (LDPC) Codes
  • Space-Time Block Codes (STBC)

The top tier BCM4360 supports the PCIe interface and uses a three-stream implementation, reaching as high as 1.3 Gbps of throughput. The BCM4352 and BCM43526 support PCIe and USB interfaces, respectively, and use a two-stream 802.11ac implementation that can reach up to 867Mbps. Lastly, the BCM43516 chip also supports USB interfaces, but uses a single-stream radio that can reach speeds of up to 433Mbps. By comparison, even multiple-stream 802.11n devices don't typically surpass 300Mbps.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is not expected to formally ratify the 802.11ac specification until sometime around Q4 2012. However, much like it happened with the transition from 802.11g to 802.11n, users will be able to buy "pre-standard" hardware early in 2012 without worrying about compatibility issues when the standard is approved.

According to Michael Hurlston, senior vice president and general manager of Broadcom's wireless LAN division, early products should be upgradable in the field to the final standard. "I'm confident that any changes to the spec beyond this point and before final ratification will be be window dressing, and relatively small [...] History is a very good guide, and we feel that history will repeat itself," he said.

User Comments: 11

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Burty117 Burty117, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

But wait, doesn't that mean you'd need a new wireless card in your PC/Laptop to get these speeds? So even if your router had these new chips you'd need an adapter that is capable anyway?

I wonder if these will increase range though even on older adapters?

gamoniac said:

Hmm... good and bad. Wider range does not necessarily mean good thing. Many (including my neighbors) tune their routers to transmit at high power (longer range), which is also the default for most routers. That translates to more interference because only one device can talk on the same channel at any one point. That is why we should set our routers to the lowest transmission power as your setup or location allows. So, contrary to common sense, lower transmission power could actually mean higher throughput (TomsHardware has a great article on this subject).

Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I'll buy another router or wireless card to handle the boost... Give me more POWAH!

@burty117 I imagine that yes, you will need another adapter in your laptop/pc to achieve the higher speeds mentioned.

I'm not sure what you mean by your 2nd question though. I would think that if you had an 802.11ac router, regardless of what adapters you had in other devices, they would be able to take advantage of the 40-60% range boost mentioned.

howzz1854 said:

great... just when i finally upgraded to 450mbps N Airport Extreme with triple radio band.

Guest said:

Great, this is very good for KOREA !!!

SNGX1275 SNGX1275, TS Forces Special, said:

Maybe this one will finally be good. I tried wireless N for about a year before I finally got frustrated enough to just run a 75' cat-6 cable. I needed the signal to go diagonally about 35' through a floor (nothing special about the floor, normal wood and carpet) and it simply wasn't good enough for streaming video. Even espn3 wasn't able to sustain high quality (when on wired it did just fine), added another wireless router for G speeds (different reason why I added that) and would connect to G and get slightly better performance. Still not acceptable though. Wireless routers used: wrt320n, wrt54g (with ddwrt)

Maybe this new standard will change things, but I think the rule, until proven otherwise is: always use wired unless there is no other option.

Julio Franco Julio Franco, TechSpot Editor, said:

Very similar experiences to yours SNGX. Wired is king when you need a fast and reliable connection, even more so for streaming.

madboyv1, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Agreed, having to reset the adapter for my computer every couple of days is annoying, which is something I have to do for wireless (might be a driver/config issue though), but the good ol' wired connection is rock steady as expected.

Guest said:

I think I'll wait until the wireless industry ratifies the final standard. I can't stand having to use yet another emerging standard, and then finding out later your products doesn't meet a certain criteria, so you have to buy yet again. We have enough "preN" paperweights already, no thanks.

gobbybobby said:

I have to use wireless in my uni accommodation and while its great 100Mbps download and 50 mbps upload- consent no matter what time of day, every now and then the wireless just drops. Its a block of flats so maybe its someone using a microwave in the building or something, but highly frustrating when in middle of a Match on the PC/ PS3 or watching something on the BBC Iplayer and it cut out or give me the "Insufficient bandwidth to stream program"

Guest said:

40 to 60 percent better range = 40 to 60 percent more piggybacking

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