Macs of the near future may be able to tap directly into high-speed 802.11ac networks.
Code for the latest OS X 10.8.4 beta includes a string with the term "802.11ac channel," according to Apple-focused blog 9to5Mac. This appears to be the first reference to 802.11ac in OS X since the term does not show up in the code for OS X 10.8.3, the current version of Apple's OS.
Past rumors have suggested that Apple would be one of the early adopters of 802.11ac, equipping its laptops and tablets with the higher-speed Wi-Fi standard. Apple's Time Capsule, Airport Base Station, and other networking products would also support 802.11ac. Reports have suggested that Apple is working with chipmaker Broadcom to implement the new technology.
As the latest Wi-Fi flavor, 802.11ac is just getting off the ground and has yet to obtain ratification from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Such ratification is expected by the end of 2013 or the start of 2014.
In the meantime, several router manufacturers have already released products equipped with the draft version of 802.11ac. Some vendors, such as Trendnet, have also unveiled 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapters that can plug into a notebook to deliver the higher-speed connection.
As the successor to 802.11n and the 5th-generation Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac offers a hefty bump in speed and performance. The new standard can theoretically deliver speeds up to 1.3Gbps, earning it the moniker of Gigabit Wi-Fi.
802.11ac uses only the 5GHz band, which isn't as efficient as 2.4GHz at getting through solid objects such as walls and floors. However, the 5GHz band is currently less crowded and therefore less subject to interference.
The new standard is also backward compatible with 802.11n, so it will support any wireless device released in the past few years. However, the device itself needs to be outfitted with 802.11ac in order to take advantage of the higher speed and performance. So, it's likely Apple and other notebook makers will be ramping up support for 802.11ac throughout the year.