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Good news for those of us that like harmony in standards-land: The Wi-Fi Alliance and WiGig Alliances have agreed to cooperate on technology for networking in the 60 GHz band. This is terrific, and not unexpected. The two groups share many members, and a fairly common purpose, distinct from the WirelessHD group which is using 60 GHz for streaming high-def video. (The announcement was set for 10 May 2010 at midnight, but some outlets broke the embargo.)
The 60 GHz band, also known as a millimeter band for its wavelength, can allow up to 7 Gbps in short-range data transmission in the US and many other countries, with multiple channel configurations allowed to operate in the same space. The short wavelength means short propagation, mostly in room.
The IEEE has a 60 GHz task group (802.11ad) that's paired with its sub-6 GHz 1 Gbps group (802.11ac) as part of two separate moves forward to faster WLANs. The Wi-Fi Alliance would likely certify specific characteristics of 802.11ad for 60 GHz.
But it's been seen as quite likely that a single Wi-Fi adapter in the future would handle 2.4 GHz for compatibility and range, 5 GHz for performance and reduced interference (also where 802.11ac is focused), and 60 GHz for short-range super-fast data transfers. Having the WiGig group's specification now aligned with the future of 802.11 and Wi-Fi will make it easier for manufacturers, computer systems' makers, and home and business users.
Competing standards in computer hardware have been clearly shown to stall market development. Competing offerings differentiated by design, features, and integration are were the money is at.
The WiGig Alliance has hit a planned mark, with a spec going to members and 7 Gbps in the air: The WiGig Alliance is a group now comprising about 30 members, including all major wireless chipmakers, that wants a standard radio platform and standard application profiles for the 60 GHz millimeter-wave band. The 60 GHz band is available with different allotments in most international regulatory domains, with some, like the US, having 7 GHz available. It works best within a single room due to high attenuation from physical objects.
The WiGig Alliance is attempting to avoid the travails of standardized UWB, which took several years to fail at the IEEE, and then more to arrive in scattered fragments in a market that doesn't care, as well as the delays that encumbered 802.11n.
The announcement today is that the group expanded its membership over the last several months, and finalized the first version of its spec, which will be handed over to members to review, and then released likely in the first quarter of 2010. The spec will hit 7 Gbps of raw throughput per channel, up from about 6 Gbps in an earlier draft. As many as 4 or 5 channels will be available in any given space.
The goal is to produce a single radio standard with flexibility, allowing both high-performance and low-power devices that can work interoperably on the same band; and a set of application profiles or purposes, to allow video, data, and other kinds of transmissions to work without being at cross purposes, require separate chips, or emerge from disparate trade groups.
This is contrast to both the IEEE 802.11 Task Group ad (802.11ad), which is developing a WLAN protocol for 60 GHz, and Wireless HD, a trade group led by SiBeam with some overlap with WiGig's membership, and focused entirely on high-definition in-room streaming.
"60 GHz is a whole clean sheet of paper to work on, and to use it only to replace a single wire seems to be a tremendous waste," said Mark Grodzinsky, a board member and the marketing head at Wilocity. There's a lot of things that can happen over it." The group hasn't optimized "so heavily for one particular usage at the cost of others," he said.
Key to the spec's development was the desire to have devices that operate at lower power and consequently low data rates work interoperably on networks and with other devices that are using the maximum data rate, potentially for high-def streaming.
Grodzinsky said that beamforming, for instance, in which multiple antennas are used to steer a signal, could include many antennas for a high-throughput device, fewer for a low-power device, and none at all for an "ultra low power device."
While video may be on everyone's mind, the group has developed a spec that is entirely backwards compatible with existing Wi-Fi standards at the MAC level, including security. With chipmakers deeply involved in WiGig, this could mean WLAN adapters would have 2.4, 5, and 60 GHz radios, and move interchangeably among them based on power, range, and other characteristics.
Ali Sadri, the chair and president of the WiGig Alliance, and the WPAN/60 GHz standards director at Intel's Mobile Wireless Division, said it was critical to have a single specification in place around which all manufacturers could rally.
"90 percent of the Wi-Fi chipsets are being built by the members of the WiGig silicon team," he noted, which could make it easy to gain traction as an extension to Wi-Fi.
Grodzinsky said that the 802.11n standards battle taught everyone many lessons. "We'd like to think that we can learn from our mistakes," he said, noting that there's "no point in being fierce competitors" for technology that doesn't exist.
Many IEEE members belong to firms involved in WiGiG, and it's likely that 802.11ad will be shaped by proposals coming from those groups.
The biggest risk may be devices that share a radio standard but have disparate capabilities, something that the Wi-Fi Alliance faces every day as more protocols and features are added. "There will be a way from a consumer standpoint to recognize exactly what you're buying," said Grodzinsky.