Next-gen gigabit wireless spec formalized with 7Gbps speeds

WiGig logoIt has been a very busy day for the WiGig Alliance, which is attempting to develop a specification for next-generation wireless devices. Earlier today, the group announced the 1.0 version of its spec, which would use a chunk of spectrum at 60GHz, achieve data rates of up to 7Gbps, and retain backwards compatibility with current-generation WiFi devices. In an effort to show that support for the spec is building, WiGig also announced that it has forged a cooperation agreement with the WiFi Alliance, which promotes the current generation of wireless networking devices, and added networking giant Cisco to its board of directors.

Right now, the spec itself is only available to companies that have joined the WiGig Alliance, although there are details about it scattered through various pages on the group's site. For one, compatible devices will be able to communicate on three frequencies: the 2.4GHz chunk of the spectrum used by 802.11b/g devices, the 5GHz region used by 802.11n, and the new, 60GHz area of the spectrum that is currently not in use. WiGig documentation indicates that there's a lot of unlicensed space in that region, which gives it more options for avoiding interference when transmitting. That may be needed, as there is one HD video spec called Wireless HD that plans on broadcasting there as well (we covered Wireless HD briefly in our roundup of wireless tech).

But the bigger problem with the 60GHz region of the spectrum is simply that signals don't travel as far and are more prone to being absorbed by intervening devices. WiGig plans on getting around that by using a technique called beamforming. This requires multiple transmitters; once a recipient's position is known, the signal is sent from each transmitter with slight delays in timing needed to ensure that it causes a constructive interference pattern at the destination. Implement this properly, and WiGig promises decent signal out beyond 10 meters.

None of the previous wireless technologies have ever lived up to their promised throughputs, but, in general, a faster theoretical rate has turned out to provide better performance. With a potential throughput about 10 times that of 802.11n, WiGig seems likely to enable better speeds, provided that the beamforming technology adequately deals with any broadcast distance issues.

Existing WiFi tech, however, easily provides sufficient head room to handle the speed of incoming broadband connections, which primarily makes WiGig interesting from what it may enable within a home LAN. Home networks are becoming ever more sophisticated, with various file-serving and consuming devices, like NAS boxes, HDTVs, DVRs, and the like. Given that most of this hardware doesn't move around much, it may be easier to arrange the devices so that throughput is a bit closer to the theoretical maximum.

As we noted above, however, there are a number of other wireless protocols in the works for transmitting HD material. WiGig has some significant advantages, in that it is both more general, and is backwards compatible with earlier devices. It's also royalty-free, and the Alliance promises that it will be possible to create low-power implementations suitable for portable devices.

But the biggest advantage the group has may be in its backers. Although Cisco has just signed on, WiGig members also include Atheros and Broadcom, which make a lot of the current-generation hardware. Intel and AMD are both on board, as is Dell, a handful of cellular companies, and some consumer electronics makers. Overall, it seems like a broad base of support, and having a completed spec should allow some of them to start designing compatible gear.

Whether we'll actually see any gear in the near future is a different question entirely, and one that's tough to answer without detailed knowledge of the spec and what it would take to implement it. Even if the hardware appears soon, it may take a while to actually have an impact. Wireless-N devices were slow to take off as many companies waited for at least a draft form of an IEEE-sanctioned spec, and have only recently started displacing earlier generation hardware.

Source: ars technica

Tags: Wi-Fi, WiGig

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