High-speed wireless promises to move multigigabyte files in seconds

Unlicensed, 60GHz radio waves could hold key to high-bandwidth wireless networks

Several companies are working on products that could allow multigigabit files to be transferred over wireless networks in seconds.

Imagine a wireless network that could achieve bandwidth high enough to transfer an entire video presentation from your laptop directly onto a conference room projector.

Several firms are designing products that use multigigabit wireless networks that can send large amounts of data over short distances within a matter of seconds. In contrast to Bluetooth, which runs on a frequency band of 2.4GHz to 2.4835GHz, these new wireless networks would use the unlicensed 60GHz band to allow quick wireless transfers of large files.

“When you talk about huge file transfers, Bluetooth won’t hack it because customers can’t wait for minutes to transfer files,” says Abbie Mathew, vice president of business development at NewLANS, a Massachusetts company that is developing wireless applications for the 60GHz band. “This enables you to transfer files very quickly, which other technologies won’t allow you to do.”

And how fast are we talking about? Think in terms of whole gigabytes being sent in less than a second. Scientists at the Georgia Electronic Design Center (GEDC) at the Georgia Institute of Technology, for instance, have designed a system that can transfer data at 5G bytes/sec at a range of five meters.

Joy Laskar, the GEDC's director, says many of the products designed for the 60GHz band initially will be marketed to consumers for home use, because businesses are more likely to take wait-and-see attitudes with new technology that hasn’t yet proved reliable. Even so, he says he can imagine several business applications for multigigabit networks, especially in the field of large-scale data transfer. “Imagine that you have a portable device that’s essentially an evolved iPod that has hundreds of gigs of storage,” he says. “One scenario would be to have several kiosks around an office that could wirelessly send information to your device.”

Another potential business application for multigigabit wireless networks is the fast transfer of HD video. SiBEAM, a fabless semiconductor company, unveiled its OmniLink60 technology this summer, which lets HD video and audio files be shared between portable devices through the 60GHz band.

Essentially, OmniLink60 works through a chipset that connects different electronic devices. One device acts as the coordinator of the network, sending out beams to the other devices and knowing each of the devices’ individual functions. For instance, if you brought your laptop into a conference room with a projector that had an OmniLink60 chip installed, the technology would automatically detect and identify the projector as one that could receive signals from the laptop.

SiBEAM CEO John LenMoncheck says the OmniLink60’s range is roughly 10 meters, which would make it optimal for transferring the amount of information contained in a DVD from one side of a room to another.

Several companies -- including NEC, Toshiba, Sony and Samsung -- have been working on applications for the 60GHz band, but Laskar says it will probably be at least another year before the technology hits the open market. If the WirelessHD consortium -- a special-interest group that includes LG Electronics, Matsushita, NEC, Samsung, SiBEAM, Sony and Toshiba -- finalizes its specifications for multigigabit wireless networks within the next year, he expects to “see some products hit market by this time next year,” he says.

“The 60GHz technology is going to become very important,” says Craig Mathias, a principal with the wireless and mobile consultancy Farpoint Group. “It won’t entirely replace other wireless LANs, but for gigabit LANs, it looks like the best candidate.”

At least one other short-range wireless technology, ultrawideband (UWB), is beginning to see some applications, such as high-definition video over short distances. UWB uses another unlicensed band, reaching as high as 10.3GHz. Toshiba has introduced laptops with built-in UWB chips. Proponents say the technology could be used to copy large picture files from cameras and phones to printers, or transmit video between media players and big screens.

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