Gigabit WLANs Are (almost) Here

Today's announcement of the brand-new Wireless Gigabit Alliance (AKA WiGig or WGA) (this site is not quite live as of this posting) brings the tantalizing possibility of wireless LANs with multi-gigabit speeds decidedly closer than I'd previously thought. As you may know, the folks at 802.11 are working on two gigabit WLAN standards, one (Task Group ac) at 5 GHz., and one (Task Group ad) at 60 GHz., with neither likely to produce a standard before the end of 2012. The WGA, made up of a good number of leading technology (semiconductors and computers) and consumer-electronics companies, is focusing only on 60 GHz., which is a good choice. There's a lot of unlicensed bandwidth there (at least seven GHz., depending upon where you are on the planet), and advances in both semiconductors and antennas mitigate a good deal of the risk. I'm not expecting 60 GHz. technologies to replace .11n wholesale because of range limitations, but the whole gigabit opportunity brings wireless into absolute parity with wired Ethernet - and significantly better, in fact, in terms of throughput (again, multi-gigabit throughput is possible) and perhaps eventually even with respect to price/performance.

One thought, though, is that the WGA is perhaps jumping the gun here on 802.11. This isn't really the case, as you may recall that there were in fact three competing trade associations (MITMOT, TGnSync and WWiSE) formed to influence 802.11n in its early days of development. There are similarly other potential competitors with respect to higher-performance WLANs as well, including WirelessHD, which is also focused on 60 GHz., and WHDI, which was formed around Amimon's terrific video-streaming technology (they recently announced full 1080p capability), and both of which focus on the streaming-video opportunity. WirelessHD, which exploits 60 GHz. technology from industry leader SiBeam has serious overlap in membership with WiGig, so I'd actually expect more cooperation than competition here with respect to video. WGA is instead looking broadly at IP-based applications, which of course can include streaming video. It's also not clear how WiGig might work with or around the Wi-Fi Alliance, long the arbiter of specs for production wireless LANs. There's nothing wrong with an organization being a standards body (de-facto standards, anyway) and a trade association all in one (think USB, for example), of course, but no association with a hot new technology can expect to have the field all to itself. Some overlap is inevitable; Samsung, for example, belongs to all three of the above organizations. And a little conflict needs to be expected as well, remembering once again the 802.11n standards wars of 2004.

The really interesting part, however, is that the formation of WGA at this point in time seems to indicate that 60 GHz. WLAN products could in fact appear in a year or so. As I don't expect 802.11ad to produce a 60-GHz. standard for about another three years, it would be silly to establish a trade association to commercialize the results of that effort so far in advance. So I expect WiGig member companies to have products based on their technology well before 2012, perhaps leading to a standards war down the road. As always (remember the failure of the effort to standardize ultra-wideband?), the market will decide. And that's what marketing, the essence of trade associations, is all about. Still, exciting times. And to think we couldn't even do one megabit back in 1991...

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