Way back at MWC we saw Qualcomm Atheros demonstrating single spatial stream 802.11ac on a MSM8960 MDP, where it was pushing 230 Mbps to a nearby 802.11ac router. I talked about the WCN which works in conjunction with the WLAN PHY onboard the MSM8960 SoC, but got the part number wrong apparently (I said it was WCN3860). Qualcomm Atheros is now making that particular part official, and it's the WCN3680, a single spatial stream 802.11ac and BT 4.0 combo solution that works in conjunction with either MSM8960 or the quad core APQ8064 Krait SoCs. 

Back then, I suspected that WCN3680 might not be implementing 256QAM (which is an optional 802.11ac feature), based on the 230 Mbps transfer rate we saw and talk of this being Airgo IP. The announcement states that WCN3680 is capable of a full 433 Mbps single spatial stream PHY rate, which corresponds to MCS-9, and thus includes 256QAM support. The announcement goes on to note that end user throughput will be around 200 Mbps, which is much closer to what we saw at the MWC demo, which is a little confusing. Either way, mobile 802.11ac is nearly upon us, as Qualcomm Atheros and the other combo chip players continue to trickle out announcements. This solution for MSM8960/APQ8064 again uses the on-SoC baseband for WLAN, WCN3680 is that external RF which enables it. This is roughly analogous to how the cellular baseband situation works - you use the on SoC baseband and external RF. 

The other announcement is Qualcomm Atheros' beefier 802.11ac solution which I've been waiting to hear about. This is the QCA986x family, which does 802.11ac and BT 4.0 solution over PCIe, which comes in a 2 or 3 stream variant (QCA9862 and QCA9860, respectively) with full MCS-9 support (either 867 Mbps for 2 stream or 1.3 Gbps for 3 stream). This is a PCIe solution which will no doubt make its way into notebooks and other desktop platforms. Both QCA986x and WCN3680 are currently sampling. 

Source: QCA

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  • Freakie - Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - link

    *More interested in the QCA9862 for my laptop*

    Nothing quite like cheap upgrades to make old toys do new tricks :)
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - link

    Only problem with 802.11ac is that it's 5GHz only, which means really great throughput...as long as you're in the same room as the router. At that point, you could just go Gigabit Ethernet (which is what I do in my office 95% of the time on laptops). Anyway, I'm very interested in seeing the new routers and adapters come out, but I suspect many will be disappointed with range compared to the ubiquitous 2.4GHz solutions.
  • Freakie - Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - link

    If it's a dual band router, it should be able to push both 2.4 and 5GHz though, correct? Or am I missing something and Dual Band routers aren't capable of two frequencies at once?

    Either way, my router is in the same room that I am almost always in while online =P And running an ethernet cable under the carpet isn't exactly my landlord's idea of an authorized modification =P Suppose I could just put it up through the wall and drop it down through the wall where I want it, there is a phone jack right around there that I can take out, just have to cut a length of CAT5 and put some ends on it, should still have at least 100ft left in that spindle... Eh, who am I kidding, what's the point? xP
  • CoreLogicCom - Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - link

    Dual-band, or dual-radio, APs (and routers) have a 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz band. In the case of 802.11ac, only the 5Ghz will be 802.11ac capable. The 2.4Ghz radio will be provided by a regular 802.11n chipset. Depending on the feature set available to the end user, you can use band steering to force devices capable of 5Ghz to the 5Ghz radio which gives better performance, and frees the 2.4 Ghz radio for legacy devices (and typically less performance). Typically MIMO is effective for both bands, but the real benefit to MIMO is beamforming, but 802.11n spec requires both the AP and client to participate, which most wireless devices don't do (uses more power and battery on the client). So some APs support beamforming without the client but this isn't to 802.11n spec (Cisco does this). Hope this helps.
  • iwod - Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - link

    Absolutely love some of the idiotic decisions. Would also like to see all low end devices missing this as well.
  • amberleebuzzby - Sunday, July 15, 2012 - link

    Great article! We have so much going on in our house; from smartphones to netflix streaming off of our ps3 upstairs, and off of our wii in the playroom; then online gaming in the upstairs bedroom, and at least 2 laptops and one desktop on every night!

    I am looking into wireless routers, and I am looking at a few 11ac routers that were just released.

    I started reading some reviews and they mentioned that these products are not WiFi certified 802.11ac products, since the certification won’t start until early next year. From what I could tell, they are definitely not WiFi Certified.

    I read that this could cause problems with devices that are released after the 11ac certification, so I am thinking of waiting, or getting a 11n router.

    Can anyone tell more about this issue?

    Should I only buy a 802.11ac router that has WiFi Certification?
  • 0ldman79 - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link


    802.11ac will not help with your existing laptops, PS3 or Wii.

    I work in the wireless business, 802.11ac is very interesting to me, however, it is still so immature that I haven't even bought any test equipment yet.

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