The newest technology in wireless is wireless ac, technically called 802.11ac. (802.11 is the basic protocol for all WiFi connections.) Wireless ac is an improvement upon previous wireless standards, b, g, and n. The previous standard, wireless n, was developed in 2007. Wireless ac was first utilized in 2013. That’s 6 years between updates, which is a lot of time when you are talking technology. So this brings with it a lot of benefits.
The first is speed. Wireless ac is up to 3 times faster than wireless n. Theoretical speeds are 450 Mbps for wireless n, and 1300 Mbps for wireless ac. Actual speeds are much lower, closer to 50 Mbps for n and 150 Mbps for ac, maximum, however, it still keeps the 3x faster ratio. Of course, many different factors go into these speeds, so you’re not always going to see these type of numbers. In any case, wireless ac is a large improvement, in any setup, over wireless n.
Wireless ac also uses beamforming technology. Previous WiFi uses an omnidirectional antenna, basically meaning there is a big sphere of coverage around the access point or router. This is reason why placement of the router is very important, to reach the largest area. Beamforming means the router can detect where the connected devices are located, and beam a signal directly to the device and back. This leads to a stronger signal and better long range performance.
Wireless ac also runs exclusively on the 5 Ghz band, which avoids lots of interference from Bluetooth devices, cordless phones, and even microwaves. It also allows for up to 8 antennas, to support more devices to connect without sacrificing the overall signal to all the devices.
However, to really gain the benefits of the technology, both your device and your router or access point must support wireless ac. If only one device has the standard, then you will still be running at the highest standard supported by both devices. The good news is that all wireless ac devices and routers are backwards compatible to support all the previous standards. So if you are in the market for a new router and you want to pick up a wireless ac router, your older devices will still work, but at a lower standard.
However, many devices support wireless ac already. One major device in this category is the iPhone 6, but many other devices already support the ac standard. Pretty much any wireless device that has come out in the last year likely already supports it.. An excellent place to look to see if your device supports wireless ac is the WiFi Alliance Product Finder. You can choose the device type, and then filter by Wireless AC certified, as shown in the image below, or choose your own search categories.
Another thing to note is that changing to wireless ac is not going to speed up your Internet speed, but rather your wireless transfer speeds for things such video streaming between devices and file transfers. Your Internet speed is controlled by your ISP, and is usually capped based on what speed rate you pay for.