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Apple to upgrade to '5G WiFi' this year?

One-gig-and-above wireless, coming to a Mac near you – maybe

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Apple will reportedly upgrade its Macs this year to include "5G WiFi", a technology that will increase wireless connectivity to speeds "in excess of a gigabit per second," according to Cupertino's purported chip partner, Broadcom.

This news comes courtesy of The Next Web, which reports that "[s]ources familiar with Apple's plans" have told them that Apple has "struck a deal" with Broadcom to include that company's 5G WiFi (802.11ac) chips in its 2013 Mac lineup – presumably MacBook Pros, iMacs, and Mac minis, and perhaps even Mac Pros, if Apple remembers that it still offers that beefy tower.

Broadcom launched its 5G WiFi line at last January's Consumer Electronics Show. At that time, the company introduced the three-stream, 1.3Gbps BCM4360 for PCIe interfaces, and the two stream, 867Mbps BCM4352 and BCM43526, the former for PCIe and the latter for USB. At launch, Broadcom touted not only the increased speed that the not-yet-ratified 802.11ac specification promises, but also the improved power efficiency and range of the emerging standard.

Speaking at a Broadcom event last month, Michael Hurlston, Broadcom SVP and general manager of the company's Mobile and Wireless Group, said, "We see almost every major infrastructure customer – retail routers, even some gateways – has adopted 5G Wi-Fi, across the board: Linksys, Netgear, Belkin, D-Link, Buffalo in Japan. Every single player is using our chipset to do that."

Hurlston noted that among companies workng with its speedy, power-miserly, and improved-range chips, "Asus is probably the most notable client that has launched with 5G WiFi technology." However, although that Taiwan-based company's G75VM "Ultimate Fighting Machine" was touted upon its release in the middle of last year to be the first 802.11ac laptop, its specs page on the Asus website lists it as having 802.11 b/g/n.

The G75VM's follow-on G-series compatriot, the G75VX, is listed as having "802.11 b/g/n or 802.11ac." The G75VX reviewed last week by Germany's Netbookcheck.com, however, was equipped with an Atheros AR9485WB-EG 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi chip – but Asus does mention on its website that "Product specifications may differ from country to country."

Asus, by the way, introduced an 802.11ac dual-band (2.4GHz/5GHz) RT-AC66U router last June, with a dual-band PCE-AC66 PCI-E adapter and USB-AC53 USB adapter scheduled for release soon.

The inclusion of 802.11ac in its Macs might put Apple ahead of other major PC makers, but that will – of course – depend upon when those manufacturers get theirs to market. According to Hurlston, we should see more 802.11ac-equipped clients "hitting around CES if not immediately following CES." That show will be held next week in Las Vegas, so the picture should become more clear by then.

"Perhaps most significantly," Hurlston said, "is smartphones and tablets, and we expect the first phones and tablets certainly to be in very, very early 2013." If those devices aren't unveiled at CES, he said that "certainly by Mobile World Congress we'll see them on store shelves" – that show will take place February 25 through 28 in Barcelona.

It's unlikely that Apple will upgrade its Macs – or, for that matter, its iPads, iPhones, iPod touches, or Apple TVs – by the end of next month. But Cupertino has surprised us with quick product upgrades before; witness the full-size iPad upgrade in October of last year, just seven months after its predecessor shipped in mid-March.

Apple launched its most-recent 13-inch and 15-inch non-Retina MacBook Pros in June of last year, and its 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro at the same time. Seven months from that launch would be ... hmmm ... this month.

That's not a prediction, just an observation. ®

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