802.11ac is a new standard that is able to reach faster wireless networking speeds than the current 802.11n that is in use on iPad, iPhone, Mac, AirPort, and iOS devices. 802.11ac uses two to four times the frequency bandwidth, which allows for more efficient data transfers and twice as many antennas.
According to Apple Insider, Apple is planning on supporting the new 802.11ac specification this year, with the addition of “Gigabit WiFi” to new AirPort base stations, Time Capsules, Apple TVs, notebooks, and possibly, iOS devices, all expected to deploy over the course of 2012.
The new standard is able to reach networking speeds in excess of 1 Gigabit, which is nearly three times as fast as our current 802.11n networks. It also has improved signal (thanks to extra antenna capabilities), better reliability, and more efficient power chips.
802.11ac may not have been an ratified as an official standard by the 802.11 Working Group at this time, but it is on track to be widely adopted in the near future. There are already suppliers who are launching chipsets with 802.11ac support, including Apple supplier Broadcom.
Apple has always been a pioneer of wireless technology, introducing the AirPort in 1999, and support in its desktops and laptop line, while other manufacturers were still caught up on landline phone wiring. Later, Apple released the AirPort Extreme in 2003 with 802.11g before it was formally approved, and again, in 2006, Apple implemented 802.11n before it was ratified.
Even though 802.11ac is unlikely to be approved until late next year, it is likely, based on past history, that Apple will begin releasing new devices supporting the standard much sooner.