So, what is the big deal with AC and should you care? First off, it’s backwards compatible with all previous standards, so if you have a mixture of B/G/N devices like older laptops or tablets, and newer devices that support AC, it will work with all of them. Of course, what we’re all interested in, in regards to AC, is its performance, and on that matter it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Whereas 802.11n was only able to pump out 450Mb/s of total bandwidth, 802.11ac is capable of transmitting at up to 1,300Mbps on a 5GHz channel. Of course you’ll likely never see that top-end performance in the real world, but that’s what 802.11ac is specified to offer in max throughput.
Just to be clear, wireless AC is only available on the 5GHz channel, which has fewer devices on it than a typical 2.4GHz channel, allowing for higher performance due to less interference and the use of wider channels. The trade-off is that 5GHz signals typically don’t travel as far as those on the 2.4GHz channel. However, 802.11ac makes up for it with a technology named Beamforming, which allows it to figure out where devices are located and amplify the signal in their direction instead of just broadcasting in all directions like 802.11n. Also, while 802.11n supports only four streams of data, 802.11ac supports up to eight streams on channels that are twice as wide.