updated 10:30 pm EST, Fri February 3, 2012
Residential gateways may lead to ubiquitous Wi-Fi
Two applications from Google to the FCC, one asking to test a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled "entertainment device" from December and other seeking to set up a residential gateway using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth from earlier this month may indicate that Google is planning to deploy or at least support future 802.11ac networks and devices, which would dramatically increase transmission speeds for HD video and other data throughout a local network.
The "entertainment device" could be a new version of Google TV which hopes to take advantage of the faster Wi-Fi standard in order to make moving media and other large files around a household network more seamless by employing 802.11ac. The forthcoming protocol has been nicknamed "5G Wi-Fi" for its ability to also carry Bluetooth and Near-Field Communication (NFC) data at speeds up to 433Mbps per stream, a bit less than the theoretical 600Mbps of 802.11n but with the advantage of being able to support and merge multiple MIMO streams. One three-stream Broadcom chipset claimed combined speeds of up to 1.3Gbps. In theory, the ac protocol could handle up to eight streams.
The 802.11ac spec also promises to remove "dead zones" in traditional 802.11 setups, and the technology is said to be six times more power-efficient than existing equipment. This also provides incentive for cell phones and other battery-powered devices to use 802.11ac radios, since the power savings for wireless communications translates into extra battery life for other uses.
Google applied to the FCC for testing in both cases in order to ascertain the "throughput and reliability of the home Wi-Fi networks that will support" either the network or the device. The only hint on the device Google is testing, which could indicate that it will forsake partners like Sony and move into making its own hardware, is that it requires a high-speed connection and runs "applications" of some type. For the network testing, Google proposes to use fiber optic to deliver the internet to the home and the tested equipment to check on LAN speed and performance.
It is possible that both tests may also lead Google to set up fiber-based high-speed Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networks that could connect entire communities and yet be backward-compatible with existing 802.11 equipment. The 802.11ac system would use beamforming to extend the range, with a three-antenna unit able to sustain signal strength for up to 90 meters (nearly 300 feet). The specification isn't ratified yet, however, and may take some time to get there as it did with 802.11n. At present, no products are on the market that handle 802.11ac or its shorter-range variant 802.11ad.