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The Cloud WiFi: surf up to 300Mbps at 5GHz but no WiFi AC yet

The Cloud has upgraded its WiFi hotspots to support 5GHz traffic at up to 300Mbps for 802.11n WiFi kit and get users out of the congested 2.4GHz band.

The upgrade could allow hotspot users to reach up to 150Mbps with WiFi N in 2.4GHz, and up to 300Mbps in 5GHz.

Most phones and laptops now support 802.11n as well as the older 802.11g with both operating in the 2.4GHz band, along with Bluetooth and many other unlicensed wireless technologies.

Congestion in the 2.4GHz band means it’s very difficult for devices to reach even the theoretical top speed of 54Mbps for 802.11g, let alone the higher speeds of 802.11n.

WiFi N can also operate in the 5GHz band at faster rates with less interference, but most smartphone WiFi chips only use 2.4GHz because it makes them cheaper to produce.

WiFi kit makers are now poised to release the next-generation of WiFi kit using 802.11ac, which has a top speed of 1,300Mbps, but more importantly it adds a 5GHz band radio that can also be used for 802.11n links at up to 300Mbps.

WiFi AC routers and USB dongles are expected to arrive this year, but phones and tablets aren’t expected to support it for at least 18 months.

We spoke to The Cloud’s head of edge technologies, Sami Susiaho, after a blog post suggested they’re preparing to roll out WiFi AC.

Susiaho said The Cloud will probably begin upgrading to the new tech in a couple of years, when it starts to emerge in the iPhone and other major portable devices with lots of users.

But it has upgraded its hotspots nationwide to support 802.11n at 5GHz with a new technology that allows multiple users to each have an individual channel running at maximum speed.

They can also open up 40Hz ‘wideband’ channels with twice the bandwidth of the 20Hz channels used in the 2.4GHz band.

On top of that, WiFi N has better range and higher speeds at 5GHz than at 2.4GHz, and there are very few other sources of interference at the same frequency.

In the real world hotspot with other users, says Susiaho, single-antenna smartphone users will be able to get up to 20Mbps on WiFi N, while a laptop user with multiple antennas could harness 100Mbps.

The Cloud is owned by Sky, and is free to Sky unlimited broadband subscribers.