Wi-Fi Alliance Resuscitates the IEEE’s 60-GHz Neglected Stepchild

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Are you using the 60-GHz IEEE standard 802.11ad? Is anyone? You don’t see it deployed very widely, if all.

So why is the standard so neglected? This high-speed wireless technology has been around for nearly a decade, so it’s not like it’s totally new. The IEEE 802.11ad working group fussed over its development for years before finally ratifying the standard in December of 2012. An organization called the WiGig Alliance was formed in 2009 to promote the use of 802.11ad. They dubbed it WiGig. The WiGig Alliance developed a certification program that apparently was never implemented. Then in 2013, the WiGig Alliance merged with the Wi-Fi Alliance, putting WiGig under Wi-Fi management.

On October 24th, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced a new WiGig certification program. Testing for interoperability and backwards compatibility are key factors in the widespread acceptance of a wireless technology. The new Wi-Fi CERTIFIED WiGig program should go a long way toward recharging this 60-GHz movement.

In case you forgot, or actually never knew, the 802.11ad standard uses the license-free spectrum from 57 to 64 GHz. The FCC recently extended that range to 71 GHz. With 2.16-GHz wide channels, WiGig can hit speeds as high as 7 Gb/s using OFDM and 64QAM modulation. The prime limitation of WiGig is its range. The physics of wireless penalizes the higher frequencies with more limited distances.

Nevertheless, WiGig overcomes this by using high-gain beamforming phased-array antennas to boost power and minimize interference to others. Maximum useable range is about 10 meters for most uses, but that can be longer with a good, clear line-of-sight path using high antennas.

As for applications, WiGig matches up best with video transfer and streaming.  HD TV sets, set-top boxes, and DVRs are prime candidates for fast wireless connectivity. WiGig is a great short-distance cable replacement. That makes it useful for docking stations, digital/video cameras, and wireless USB dongles. With its very low latency, it should be a big hit for use with wireless virtual reality headsets.

WiGig will also show up in access points in highly dense areas of use—e.g., stadiums, public spaces, and crowded organizations. Its full backward compatibility with all 2.4- and 5-GHz Wi-Fi versions will let WiGig adopters maximize data access speeds under any condition. Also look for WiGig to be used for metropolitan backhaul replacing fiber in some systems.

As for vendors, chipsets are made by Broadcom, Intel, Marvell, MediaTek, Peraso, and Qualcomm Atheros. Others are expected to jump in as momentum builds. Access point vendors so far are AceLink, Netgear, and TP-Link. More are expected. You will also see WiGig integrated into some laptops and smartphones. Dell already has a model.

One interesting side note involves WiGig’s competitor, WirelessHD. This is another high-speed 60-GHz technology standard developed in parallel with 802.11ad during the same timeframe. WirelessHD, also known as UltraGig, was pioneered by SiBEAM and uses a similar-but-incompatible approach to 802.11ad. It, too, has had minimal adoption and success. SiBEAM was acquired by Silicon Image in 2011; Silicon Image was in turn acquired by Lattice Semiconductor in 2015.

Lattice, with its SiBEAM technology, had 802.11ad chipset capability as it announced a reference design in January of 2016. Whether Lattice will continue with its own WirelessHD movement or jump to WiGig is unknown. With the Wi-Fi Alliance’s recent efforts, Lattice may wish to join what looks like a growth movement for the 60-GHz technology. Market data firm ABI Research is predicting that 2017 will be a breakout year for WiGig and estimates that chipset sales will grow to 1.5 billion by 2021. With its full backward compatibility with older Wi-Fi standards still in use, I suspect WiGig will be the big winner.

 One other thing: A follow-up development designated 802.11ay is already in the works to further improve on the 11ad standard. While years away, it does provide a roadmap for the future. One big question is how WiGig will compete with 5 GHz 802.11ac products already rolling out and its forthcoming upgrade to 802.11ax. Data rates with 11ax will be similar to those of WiGig, so is there a need for both?

The Wi-Fi Alliance says the two standards will complement one another, but we will need to wait and see. In any case, thanks are due to the Wi-Fi Alliance for helping rejuvenate a technology whose time may have finally come.

Discuss this Blog Entry 5

on Oct 29, 2016

Thanks so much for sharing news on those great gigs Mr. Frenzel.

So the new WiGig certification program must have a very stringent rule on backwards compatibility. WirelessHD's leverage on 802.11ad was its higher max operating range (28Gbps) compared to the measly 7 Gbps offered by WiGig. Surely, its chances of survival in the market will diminish with celerity as WiGig is backward compatible with other 802.11 protocols.

on Nov 1, 2016

Correction on the history of events. WirelessHD was created before WiGig. In fact, WiGig came out of WirelessHD when Intel realized they could not control the standard as it had progressed to completion. Intel, as they have been apt to do, broke off and formed WiGig as a competing standard.

on Nov 1, 2016

Lou, you ask is there a need for both. Has anyone asked is there a need for either? I mean what use is there for 7 or 28 Gbits bandwidth on a device that can only go 10 Meters on a good day. For most of the applications I've heard about such as virtual reality goggles, a lower frequency and bit rate would work fine. Of course for all those wrapped up in virtual reality I would recommend they take off their goggles full of unreality, get up and go outside, and enjoy some real reality. The fresh air will do you good. So will a massive dose of reality. It is hard to imagine a more dehumanizing concept than virtual reality. Somebody had to say it...Shades of the movie Matrix...the book 1984...a lot of other terrifying ideas bandied about concerning what the future might look like...Just...get a life!

on Nov 2, 2016

I plan to try using this for wireless remote control where the "short" range is desirable. Bob

on Nov 16, 2016

"Maximum useable range is about 10 meters for most uses, but that can be longer with a good, clear line-of-sight path using high [located/gain] antennas."

I am not sure if high location or high gain is meant.
* If high location is meant then it points to avoiding obstacles like trees or buildings or road vehicles.
* If high gain (directional) anntennas are meant then this is something not allowed for every WiFi band due to regulations. I am not sure if this is allowed for 60 GHz but it probably is forbidden to use measures increasing the PEP (peak envelope power of radiation, applied to the strongest antenna direction) for many lower frequency WiFi bands (or maybe at least in Europe where the FCC does not apply but still the IARU). In general an antenna gain in a static or slow moving (using a adjustable antenna setup) sender-receiver constellation is beneficial to the signal-noise-ratio but a possible violation of maximum power ratings is not good nor a violation of the maybe hitting regulations for the antenna shape.

If valid and power is under good control then it might be possible to use even an antenna array that is automatically slecting the main direction by mixing the signals adequately. (Such like your head is turning to the sound source and your ears and neurons recreate the sound source in view - the very scientific "coctail party effect".)

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Lou Frenzel

Lou Frenzel writes articles and blogs on the wireless, communications and networking sectors for Electronic Design. Formerly, Lou was professor and department head at Austin Community College...
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