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WiGig fast wireless may change Wi-Fi, home networks

The emerging technology for high-definition multimedia could have a big role to play

By , IDG News Service
May 11, 2009 08:41 PM ET

IDG News Service - The newly formed Wireless Gigabit Alliance looks likely to play a big role in the future of Wi-Fi, but its high-speed technology probably won't squeeze out wired multimedia networks.

The alliance, which was announced last week and is led by several big Wi-Fi chip makers, along with Microsoft, Nokia and major consumer electronics companies, said it's on track to complete a specification by year's end for 6Gbbps wireless networks. That outstrips any widely available wireless technology. But WiGig will use 60GHz radio spectrum, where frequencies are so high they are suited mainly to in-room connectivity.

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Although the demand for streaming high-definition video around homes is still minuscule, according to industry analysts, several technologies have sprung up to serve this market. They aim at the problem of how to distribute TV, video-on-demand and stored video among set-top boxes, PCs, TVs and other devices. Most consumers aren't willing to pull new wires around their homes to make this possible.

In addition to high-definition video transmission, the high bandwidth and low latency of WiGig could be ideal for several applications, including gaming on HDTVs and wireless docking of netbooks to desktop displays and storage, vendors say. It might also let consumers send video from HD camcorders to TVs without a cable. Because it is designed for IP networking and has the backing of Intel, Broadcom, Atheros, and major consumer electronics vendors, there's a good chance WiGig will come out ahead of some existing wireless systems, analysts say.

Various vendor groups have pushed different types of existing home wiring as the solution to HD networking: HomePNA (originally Home Phone Networking Alliance) for telephone wires, HomePlug Powerline Alliance for electrical wiring and Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MOCA) for interior coaxial cables. There are also high-speed wireless technologies vying for position. UWB (Ultrawideband) has been adopted for Wireless USB, now shipping in certain laptops, but some of its main suppliers have shut down. WirelessHD and WHDI (Wireless Home Digital Interface), with speeds closer to WiGig's, each has shipped in home electronics products or soon will.

One factor in WiGig's favor is the movement to integrate it with Wi-Fi. A faster version of the IEEE 802.11 standard using the 60GHz band is also under development now, and chip makers and the alliance are already talking about WiGig as part of a "tri-band Wi-Fi" technology that would include 60GHz on top of the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands already used for 802.11a, b, g and n. The idea is that, as users of the tri-band system move farther from an access point, their connection could step down to the slower, longer-range standards.

Intel, Broadcom and Atheros all hope to make WiGig an extension of Wi-Fi. They are also involved in the IEEE task group for the upcoming 60GHz standard, called 802.11AD. That group is in the early stages of developing its new standard. The Wi-Fi Alliance industry group, which certifies products based on the 802.11 family of standards, says WiGig seems complementary to Wi-Fi and that as it matures there may be opportunities for the Wi-Fi and WiGig groups to collaborate.

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