A high-frequency supplement to Wi-Fi that's several times faster than most of what's available now appears headed for enterprises through a partnership between Cisco Systems and a specialist in the technology.
The system, called WiGig or IEEE 802.11ad, uses 60GHz spectrum to reach theoretical speeds as high as 7Gbps (bits per second), over a shorter range than today's Wi-Fi technologies. That's a lot more speed: The fastest Wi-Fi system, 802.11ac, tops out at just over 1Gbps. The Wi-Fi Alliance said in September that it expects to start certifying some WiGig products next year. WiGig specialist Wilocity will work with Cisco to integrate the technology with Wi-Fi into enterprise infrastructure that can run on three radio bands, the companies announced on Wednesday.
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The tri-band networks will include WiGig in addition to the mainstream Wi-Fi systems that use the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum bands. Their work together could include Cisco using Wilocity silicon in its enterprise access points, as well as the companies helping makers of devices to add WiGig, said Bob Friday, CTO for mobility in Cisco's enterprise networking group. "If he thinks it's a good idea, it's going to happen," said Farpoint Group analyst Craig Mathias, referring to Friday and to Cisco's power in the wireless LAN infrastructure market. Cisco access points with Wilocity-powered 60GHz capability will ship, though it's not yet clear when, Mathias said. After a long path to market, WiGig earlier this year was ratified as the IEEE 802.11ad standard. The WiGig Alliance has merged with the Wi-Fi Alliance and plans to certify products for Wi-Gig. The technology will also be used as the basis of other systems, including Wireless USB. Wilocity has been one of the major vendors of 60GHz silicon and already has some chips shipping in client devices, including laptops and docking stations from Dell. The high-speed, short-range specification complements the widely used Wi-Fi technologies, including 802.11ac, 802.11n, and the earlier 802.11a/b/g standards, Cisco and Wilocity say. The standards allow for smooth handoffs between the different networks to give users the best possible performance in a given location.Enterprises will eventually turn to tri-band networks for more bandwidth to handle growth in users and time-critical traffic, Mathias said. The 60GHz band offers between 7GHz and 9GHz of spectrum, depending on the country, he said. That dwarfs the additional block in the 5GHz band that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is working on making available for Wi-Fi, which only amounts to about 1GHz, Mathias said. The 60GHz wireless LANs won't be designed for going through walls but for serving small, focused areas. On an office floor filled with cubicles, many access points could be deployed, each delivering a large amount of capacity to a portion of the users, said Tal Tamir, Wilocity's co-founder and CEO. That means less sharing and higher speeds than if everyone on the floor was sharing one access point, he said. In addition to its advantages for enterprises, the technology could help service providers to cover public areas where dense crowds gather, such as stadiums and university classrooms, Cisco's Friday said. Because of its sheer speed, the new technology could also untether some types of work from wired networks, Friday said. For example, doctors could use WiGig to share medical imagery in a hospital without having to plug into a wired LAN, he said. If past Wi-Fi evolution is a guide, there's more room to grow with 60GHz. The 802.11ad standard achieves its 7Gbps speed without even using tools such as channel bonding and multiple radios that can boost the performance of 802.11n and 802.11ac. With those enhancements, future standards could offer as much as 50Gbps, Wilocity's Tamir said. "There's a good deal of work that still needs to be done," Farpoint's Mathias said. Success for WiGig will depend on the further advancements in the standard, specifications from the Wi-Fi Alliance, and marketing and education efforts, he said. Many enterprises are just exploring how to implement 802.11ac to supplement their existing networks. Adding 60GHz to the mix will take even more work. "Markets will always absorb evolution faster than revolution," Mathias said.