While there were similar rumors last year, 2012 came and went without significant ac support on the client side. This wasn’t surprising – the standard was (and is) evolving1 and 2012 was probably a bit too early for widespread client-side adoption.
However, as we watch client-device chipset support evolve we don’t see the idea of Apple adopting ac in 2013 particularly surprising.
Apple and Broadcom have a extensive history together, with Apple often using Broadcom chipsets in their laptops and devices. The BCM4331 is on the Retina MBP and the 13” MBP that I’m writing this on, for example, and Apple used the BCM4334 in the iPhone 5. Broadcom has already announced a number of products for the mobile market that incorporate 802.11ac, including the BCM4335 integrated WLAN/Bluetooth chip, the BCM4352/4360 transceivers, and the BCM43460 for APs2.
The reports reference a new chip rather than one of the above, and that makes sense. The 4335 is targeted the handset market, and the 4352/4360/43640 lines are targeted at access points and would require multiple-chip solutions to support ac and n together. More likely, there’s a BCM4332 in the works that provides b/g/n/ac and 3 spatial streams on one chipset. Given the work that’s already been done, we don’t doubt Broadcom’s ability to deliver this solution in the near future.
Apple also has a history being close to the front in integrated networking technology in their computing products, whether it was (optional) 802.11b in the first iBook in 1999 or 802.11n in the Apple TV in 2007. With Intel’s Haswell architecture tock scheduled for Q2-ish 2013, it’s a good bet that we’ll see a new generation of Apple laptops3 announced around WWDC, just like the latest generation was announced a couple of months after Ivy Bridge was made available in April 2012.
(1) Draft 2.0 wasn’t approved until January 2012.
(2) Although it seems the few announced laptops with built-in ac support may be running some flavor of Broadcom BCM43xxx chipsets.
(3) No, I’m not going to speculate on what else might be included.