WIRELESS INFRASTRUCTURE

  • 11/15/2016
    8:00 AM
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WiGig: Does This WiFi Standard Have A Future?

The WiFi Alliance has begun testing 802.11ad for interoperability, but it's unclear how the standard will be adopted.

Since the beginning of the WiFi craze, vendors have marketed the heck out of each new client access technology from 802.11b all the way through the latest 802.11ac Wave 2 standard. But there are several variants of the 802.11 standard that are less hyped.  I wrote about 802.11ah earlier this year, and adoption of HaLow remains hard to predict. Alongside HaLow, there's one you may not be aware of: 802.11ad, or WiGig. This one’s not exactly new, but WiGig recently reached a maturity milestone that could help it gain traction.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has just announced an interoperability and testing program for WiGig that could be the impetus for wider adoption as new products get certified for functional compatibility. Products that have been proven to work together are easier to sell and use, and the alliance’s testing program is one of the biggest factors in the popularity of 802.11-based products in general. But then again, WiGig‘s uniqueness makes for an uncertain future despite the alliance’s backing. In some ways, WiGig has the potential to follow the path of Wi-Fi Direct, an alliance-backed initiative that hasn’t exactly taken off.

WiGig is pretty much an in-room wireless technology. Where common WiFi works in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz spectrums, WiGig is way up in 60 GHz, where propagation is measured in tens of feet at most. It won’t penetrate walls, which has both advantages and disadvantages from the perspective of system design.  What WiGig lacks in range, it makes up for in speed, with data rates to a whopping 8 Gbps or so. It’s profoundly interesting technology, and in many ways WiGig is the performance opposite of HaLow, which operates in the long-legged 900 MHz spectrum at low data rates with the ability to easily penetrate obstacles and travel hundreds or thousands of feet.

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WiFi
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(Image: iSergey/iStockphoto)

Many of us WLAN pros wonder what we’ll eventually be able to do with WiGig in the enterprise. One safe bet is high-speed, wide-bandwidth video transmission between devices that are in a shared space, but that use case only goes so far. Then there are docking scenarios – for example, a laptop wirelessly docked to a large monitor and various external drives --  where WiGig could do better than Bluetooth for speed and capacity for personal device connectivity such as audio and video gadgetry. Because it's 802.11-based, there’s nothing preventing WLAN vendors from serving capable (and nearby) client devices for network access with WiGig, and then automatically transitioning those clients to 11ac or 11n as they roam beyond WiGig range.

The future of 802.11ad is fairly wide open right now, and it will be interesting to see if industry and enterprises find enough legitimate uses for it to make WiGig a viable venture for chipmakers over time. There are only five products to date WiGig certified by the alliance, but the testing program was just made public in the last several weeks so that could change.

Since most of the certified devices are gaming hardware, you might draw the conclusion that WiGig could be relegated to a consumer niche. At the same time, when you start talking the phenomenal throughput delivered by 802.11ad, it’s likely that enterprise wireless vendors are trying to figure out how to use it. However, I’m not aware yet of a mainstream WLAN tool provider that has released anything that includes planning for or supporting WiGig either in software or at the radio level.

I love the thought of having technology options, but for now WiGig remains in “let’s see if this one gains any traction” mode.

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