Gigabit Wireless? Five 802.11ac Routers, Benchmarked

Broadcom: Insider Comments

As the single source for 802.11ac silicon, we figured we could interview no one more authoritative on the subject than Broadcom. We sat down with Dino Bekis, senior director of the access and wireless entertainment unit (AWE) and Richard Ybarra, technical marketing for AWE, to get their thoughts on the state of this wireless advance today and what it heralds for tomorrow.

Tom's Hardware: So now we have this new wireless spec that will push a ton of today’s current 2.4 GHz traffic onto the 5.0 GHz band. Aren’t we just going to run into the same congestion issues again a couple of years from now as everyone transitions over?

Broadcom: That possibility is always there, but with the new modulation schemes and using 20, 40, 80, and eventually 160 [MHz channels], we have more modulation schemes to work with. We have more bandwidth capability. So even though it may be congested, we still have a fatter pipe from the modulation schemes to push data. Will it get constricted? Yes, that day will eventually come, but we’re a ways away from that. Especially if we share the two spectrums we have with different types of traffic and different technology, I think it will help the overall wireless spectrum. If we share both of those bands with different technologies, it’ll help alleviate some of that congestion and allow us to do some interesting things in the 5.0 GHz space.

Tom's Hardware: Such as what?

Broadcom: Video streaming is one of our priorities. Obviously, video streaming is a major uptick as far as types of traffic across the Internet. Streaming video, downloading video, projecting video. That takes a lot of bandwidth, and that has to be bandwidth that’s dedicated. We see the 5 GHz space dealing with that pretty efficiently at this point. Maybe we send a lot of our data traffic over 2.4 and we use 5 GHz as more of a mechanism for video transfers. We’re kind of already seeing that now throughout the industry. However, I want to stop short of saying that’s a strict policy that we or any of our customers are advocating.

Tom's Hardware: Obviously, faster is better. But is there more significance to the 802.11ac transition than just another speed jump?

Broadcom: When I look at 5G [fifth-generation] Wi-Fi, four advantages stand out. First, there’s overall throughput, the ability to get really wireless gigabit Ethernet capability available to the home. Up until now, that really has not been achievable. Second, for a given throughput requirement per user and because of that higher aggregate capability, we can support more users on a given network. The radio design itself is more robust than the 802.11n design. We’re getting a lot better performance in terms of rate and range than in the past with 802.11n.

We’re also able to support much lower power for a given amount of data that needs to be transferred than with 802.11n. That’s very important for a couple of different products, whether it’s battery-powered products where you can get better life out of them or whether it’s products plugged into the wall, so they’ll be able to achieve higher efficiencies and lower power consumption, which feeds into some of the green standards for products being rolled out in the industry.

Finally, we have a much more standardized approach across the board to achieving the things than we did before with 11n. For example, we support higher throughputs, like 256-QAM, for applications such as fast synching or side-loading. In the past, these were attempted by various people in proprietary fashions—Turbo Mode, etc. That no longer is required. Before, beamforming mechanisms were proprietary, and now we have a standardized approach to beamforming that will support interoperability across various manufacturers. You don’t have these islands of technology that force you down a specific vendor’s path. You’ve got higher throughput, more users with respect to rate range, lower battery power. Those are all the key benefits to 11ac.

  • The Scion of Balance
    Do the graphs really meant Mb/s? If so, isn't it still very slow?
  • boulbox
    Well, i can't wait until i can make my router give wifi all the way to my to my work area.(only a few blocks away)
  • I've tested both the R6300 and the RT-AC66U in my home. The R6300 beats it hands down. The average homes won't have the traffic that your artificial software creates. Even your tests show that R6300 in 5ghz mode is faster. People will buy these for gaming and HD movie viewing and the R6300 has better range as well. I've paired my R6300 with an ASUS PCE-AC66 desktop wireless AC adapter and I can acheive 30 MB/S (megabytes) to my HTPC in a 2 story house. That's an insane speed. The RT-AC66U only managed about 15 to 18 MB/s. Also make sure the R6300 has the latest firmware, which is V1.0.2.38_1.0.33. But in conclusion, the R6300 and the RT-AC66U are like a SRT Viper and ZR1 Vette. They are both great pieces of hardware to fit most users needs. Get the ASUS If you got a ton of traffic and a lot of 2.4 ghz devices. Grab the R6300 if you are looking for a friendly setup, max speed, and max range.
  • fwupow
    Man it sure sucks when you type a long comment and it gets vaporized cuz you weren't logged in.
  • DeusAres
    I'd be happy with a 2Mb/s connection. It'd be better than this horrible 512 Kb/s connection I have now. At least then, I may actually be able to watch youtube vids in 360p.
  • fwupow
    Here's the gist of what I typed before it was rudely vaporized.

    I have a dual-band router (Netgear N600). I also purchased a couple of dual-band client USB adapters Linksys AE2500 or something to that effect.

    So the USB adapter works fine for a desktop, but having that crap sticking out the side of a laptop, netbook or tablet? Busted in 10 minutes. I hooked one up to my netbook and fried it within a couple of weeks because I'm a Netbook in bed guy. You wouldn't think it could get so hot from a USB port but it does.

    So the reality is that you have all these devices that can't be upgraded to dual-band and enjoy very little if any benefit from the new-fangled dual-band router.

    The other beef I have with routers is that they're terrible with the way they split up bandwidth between multiple devices. Instead of responsively reassigning bandwidth to the device that needs it, the router continues to reserve a major slice for a device that I'm not using.

    If you live in an apartment building, it's actually rather rude to use the full 300Mbps capacity of the wireless N band, since you may well succeed in effectively shutting your neighbor down. There's so much happening in the 2.4GHz band nowadays, it's unreal. Your own cordless keyboards/mice/controllers etc can malfunction from being unable to get a packet in edgewise.

    For these dual-band routers to be really useful, we need manufacturers of smartphones, tablets, laptops, netbook and such to build dual-band clients into them because adding the functionality with some sort of dongle just doesn't work.
  • memadmax
    I was a 802.11g and n "adoption" tester....

    Never again...

    I'll give ac a year or two before I jump on it...
  • SteelCity1981
    my wireless N produces 300 Megabits which would equal around 37 Megabytes. My highspeed internet doesn't come cloe to reaching 37 megabytes and i don't transfer tons of files wirelesly and my wi-fi rangs is pretty good .So i'm perfectly fine with my 300MB N wireless router right now. Besides that none of my devices spport ac anyhow so it would get bottlenecked from reaching its full potential.
  • Kaldor
    What were they using for a wireless network adapter on the client side?
  • chuckchurch
    iknowhowtofixit"Folks, the time to start your 802.11ac adoption is now."I think this review proved that it is time to wait for 2nd generation wireless AC routers to appear before rushing to purchase.
    Exactly. The 'client' adapter they used if anyone didn't catch it was a Cisco/Linksys router-sized device. Not practical by any means. It'd be totally insane to make any product recommendations prior to real client adapters being available, or more accurately, embedded ones are available. I think a wireless salesman wrote this article.