WiGig: Making the (Surprising) Case for 60 GHz.

Is a battle brewing between the two upcoming gigabit+ WLAN standards, 802.11ac and .11ad? The 60 GHz. (.11ad) guys, as represented by WiGig, anyway, seem to want to avoid the fight – at least for the present. I’d like to encourage them to jump in sooner – later may be too late indeed.

I spoke yesterday with a representative of the Wireless Gigabit (WiGig) Alliance to get an update on their plans. The Alliance is sponsoring a Plugfest (which I really think should be called an "UnPlugFest") next week in California, during which they expect more than ten participants to test interoperability of some number of 60-GHz. products. "Products", of course, is getting a little ahead of reality - I had expected a year ago that we'd see at least a few WiGig products available in the market by the end of this year. It now looks like we'll see the first products in the first half of next year, and certified products around the end of next year.

OK, a little past my prediction, but the next question is which products will we see? Based on this conversation, I'd expect those to be personal-area links of various forms, and, of course, uncompressed HDMI wireless-video links. But what about WLAN adapters? WiGig is working with the Wi-Fi Alliance, and the 802.11ad standard is coming along. But it doesn't seem, based on this conversation, that WLANs are really a priority here.

I think that's a mistake. 802.11ac has the momentum in the WLAN space now, positioning the technology as the logical upgrade path for, and with backwards compatibility to, 802.11n. But 60 GHz. offers seven to nine GHz. (!) of spectrum, depending upon where one is in the world, and this spectrum is largely untouched in most locations. Regardless, the nature of 60 GHz. propagation, with limited (but, contrary to popular belief, not that limited) range enforced by oxygen absorption in the air and the fundamental directionality of millimeter waves, should ensure fairly clean spectrum almost everywhere and at any time. Beamforming and relatively high power output should also help to ensure decent range, and CMOS circuitry should help with both cost and overall power consumption. Low-latency repeaters and antenna arrays might be used to extend range. Regardless, throughput at 60 GHz. should be amazing - on the order of up to 30 Gbps, well beyond what .11ac could ever hope to deliver.

But if .11ac wins mindshare first and CFOs balk at yet another WLAN upgrade beyond whatever that first gigabit-wireless upgrade turns out to be, WiGig wireless LANs will be relegated to a fairly small market opportunity. And, really, I just don't see wireless PANs (more reasonably the province of 802.15 regardless) and wireless video (I still think Amimon's WHDI is all we really need there, although I suppose this too could run at 60 GHz.) as enough opportunity to build a market of sufficient size to both lower costs and reach the critical mass necessary to hold the interest of the chip-vendor community.

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