We're just starting to see the beginning of next-generation 802.11ac Wi-Fi, the faster and more energy-efficient successor to 802.11n. While routers that support 802.11ac have been showing up for months, they're still rare, and present-day computers don't have the hardware to connect to them. But that should be changing soon. Chipmaker Marvell, which has made parts for the Kinect and OnLive Microconsole among other things, is announcing a new radio chip that combines 802.11ac Wi-Fi with Bluetooth 4.0 and Near Field Communication (NFC). It's not the first chip to incorporate the new wireless standard, nor the first to offer both 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0, but the addition of NFC is new, and the 802.11ac market is still young at this point. Marvell's promising speeds of 600 to 860Mbps, still blazing fast but not quite the 1.3Gbps of Qualcomm or Broadcom. Nonetheless, it's likely to start showing up in a number of devices as 802.11ac catches on, though Marvell hasn't announced any partners.
Products with the Avastar 88W8897, as it's called, should start shipping to consumers by "this time next year," Marvell has told us. It's designed for ultrabooks, tablets, gaming consoles, and smart TVs. About the only place it probably won't work is phones; that's because it uses multiple input multiple output (MIMO) technology, which means manufacturers would have to add even more antennas when designing for it. Price-wise, Marvell admits that it currently sees "about a 50 percent premium" over current-generation chips. That's going to drop as more companies enter the market, but it'll still be 20 to 30 percent higher than 802.11n chips over the next 18 months.