WiFi goes gigabit... but it won't go through walls
May 13, 2009 7:15 AM CT
The "cable-free living room" exists in the same futuristic space that holds the "paperless office" and the "coherent tax code"—and we'll believe in all of them just as soon as we see them. But a new consortium called the Wireless Gigabit Alliance says that it can help make the cable-free household a reality within the next few years by providing a wireless gigabit spec with enough bandwidth to transmit HD video.
The plan is like WiFi on steroids, and, just as with steroids, wireless gigabit comes with some serious drawbacks. These (fortunately) do not affect the gonads or cause 'roid rage, but they do mean that you won't likely be using wireless gigabit to transmit through walls. This is an in-room tech only, and therefore not a full replacement for the various WiFi specifications.
The group calls its work-in-progress "WiGig," which is sort of catchy and has the added benefit of making more sense than "Wireless Fidelity" ever did. WiGig will operate at 60GHz, which tells you all you need to know about its limitations. The recently-auctioned 700MHz spectrum is superb for TV transmission because the waves pass so easily through walls. WiFi began at 2.4GHz and then migrated to 5GHz, still good enough to fill a house. But WiGig jumps way up the spectrum ladder, which limits it to "gigabit speeds within a typical room."
60GHz may have its limitations, but it also has one tremendous advantage over much of the spectrum above 5GHz: it's all wide open space. 60GHz is widely available for unlicensed use around the world, which means that chipmakers can pump out one set of radios that works in every country without the need for permission. Given that's WiGig is a short-range technology, interference from neighboring WiGig devices should be less of problem than it has been for WiFi, which can be problematic in apartments or urban areas.
The WiGig spec is backed by some heavy hitters, including key chipmakers Atheros and Broadcom, along with tech companies like Intel, Microsoft, Samsung, and Dell. The group wants to have a final spec in place by the fourth quarter of this year, after which we can all look forward to eliminating "the unsightly cables that clutter today's homes and offices."
Play it again, Sam
If this all sounds vaguely like the hype that fueled ultrawideband (UWB) tech and its years of failed promises, it should; it's quite similar. WiGig appears to be the spiritual successor to the various failed UWB initiatives. As we noted last year, 60GHz was one of the four or five approaches being pursued by tech companies as classic UWB crashed and burned.
UWB was also going to unwire our living rooms and was also going to move hi-def video. Numerous companies operating in the space imploded before shipping many units (and Intel got out of the UWB business), but core research and design work was completed that should allow 60GHz development to proceed quickly; WiGig backers are hardly starting with a clean slate here.
The name has changed, and the approach isn't quite the same, but the two technologies share a similar, quixotic goal: simple high-speed connections between every device in the living room.