WiGig Alliance to push for fast wireless streaming

A group that includes Intel, Microsoft, Nokia and Panasonic plans to introduce a specification for short-range, gigabit-speed wireless networking by the end of this year.

The WiGig Alliance is developing a specification for using unlicensed 60GHz radio spectrum within a typical room.

The technology could be used for a wide range of applications, including data transfers, entertainment and docking. It would complement Wi-Fi while eliminating many of the cables currently used to connect home consumer electronics products. The WiGig Alliance hopes to create an ecosystem of products that have low power consumption and are easy to use.

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This area has been flooded with new technologies in recent years, including UWB (Ultrawideband), WirelessHD, and WHDI (Wireless Home Digital Interface), but none has really taken hold. The advent of HDTV, as well as Web-based streaming multimedia and increasing file sizes for digital photos and other content, is likely to drive demand for higher bandwidth for certain tasks than Wi-Fi can now deliver.

WiGig’s powerful backers could give it the momentum to gain wider adoption. Chip makers Atheros, Broadcom, Marvell and MediaTek are on the group’s board of directors, in addition to Intel. Dell, LG Electronics, Samsung and NEC also are on the board, along with a wireless Israeli startup called Wilocity. Contributing members include NXP, Realtek, STMicroelectronics and Tensorcom.

The group expects its specification to be available to member companies in the fourth quarter of this year. WiGig officials wouldn’t predict when products would hit the market, but they hope to have interoperability testing in place next year and possibly certify some products by the end of 2010.

WiGig hopes to collaborate closely with the Wi-Fi Alliance as well as with the IEEE 802.11AD task group, which has just started developing a standard for high-speed wireless in the 60GHz band, said Mark Grodzinsky, WiGig’s marketing chairman. Given that major contributors to IEEE 802.11 standards belong to the WiGig Alliance, it’s likely that the group’s work will influence the eventual IEEE standard, he said. Grodzinsky is also an executive at Intel.

The technology might eventually become part of a “tri-band Wi-Fi” that could provide connectivity over the 2.4GHz, 5GHz and 60GHz bands, at different speeds, depending on the strength of the signal in different locations around an access point, Grodzinsky said.

WiGig should be capable of delivering more than 6 Gigabits per second (Gbps) at the physical layer, though certain kinds of overhead will reduce that speed in real-world use, said WiGig Chairman Ali Sadri. Because it uses such high frequencies, the technology will tend to have a shorter range than Wi-Fi, but advancements in antenna design could make its range comparable to 5GHz Wi-Fi, he said.

WirelessHD is designed to deliver about 4 Gbps for consumer applications, and WHDI promises about 3Gbps. But unlike those systems, WiGig can be used for true IP (Internet Protocol) networking just as Wi-Fi can, Grodzinsky said. In addition to streaming HD video, it could be used for docking laptop PCs or netbooks to a large display, a set of speakers and a hard drive, he said. The group is developing tools in its specification to throttle back power consumption when possible, and WiGig shouldn’t affect battery life any more than Wi-Fi, he said.

The group chose the 60GHz band because it’s available without a license and almost unused in most countries, according to Sadri. WiGig isn’t alone in targeting this band, as SiBeam’s WirelessHD chips already use it.

WiGig has an impressive lineup of backers, but its timing may be a hindrance, according to In-Stat analyst Brian O’Rourke.

“The road to WiGig silicon in products on the market is a long way off, perhaps as long as two years. In the meantime, 60GHz silicon is already available from SiBeam, and Amimon also has a wireless HD transmission chip technology on the market,” O’Rourke wrote in a research note. In addition, because of the high frequency, he thinks it’s unlikely for WiGig to cover a whole house unless it’s used in conjunction with Wi-Fi. “Using WiGig technology alone to accomplish this will be a Herculean task, likely requiring the use of some type of repeater in the home,” O’Rourke wrote.

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