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Super-fast gigabit wireless heads to CES 2013

Super-fast gigabit wireless heads to CES 2013

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The WiGig Alliance, with its new technology standard promising gigabit wireless networking, has big plans for the 2013 International CES in Las Vegas next month.

WiGig, the technology standard promising gigabit wireless networking, is ready to make a splash at the 2013 International CES next month. The massive annual consumer electronics event in Las Vegas is known primarily for inspiring gadget lust, but in recent years the show has also played host to more of the Internet-based technologies that make those gadgets so sexy. For the Wireless Gigabit (WiGig) Alliance, that means CES offers the perfect platform for promoting its high-frequency wireless tech.

In the future, WiGig should make possible new devices that stream high-quality video over the air, support rapid file transfers of photos and music, and maintain high-speed Internet connections even when a crowd of users is vying for wireless access in the same small space. Because WiGig is set to deliver speeds more than ten times the highest 802.11n Wi-Fi rate, smart TVs could be wirelessly connected to the Internet using the new networking standard, and displays of every kind - from TVs to tablets - could receive video streams wirelessly from a single hub in the home.

The idea of creating new products and new product features using WiGig is appealing to consumer electronics manufacturers. More importantly at this stage, however, the concept is a compelling one for the semiconductor companies. It's the silicon manufacturers who will have to include the technology in their chips before any WiGig-certified consumer products are made.

Says Dr. Ali Sadri, president of the WiGig Alliance:

The bigger silicon manufacturers are going to wait until certifications are complete before they launch products or even announce their products. Obviously smaller companies are more aggressive and want to say they're ready. But 2013 will be an exciting year. Our collaboration with Wi-Fi will hopefully materialize, and we can expand what we've done with WiGig even further.

The development of the WiGig standard started in 2009, and, according to Dr. Sadri, the Alliance has made rapid progress since. Dr. Sadri's team has been working closely with the Wi-Fi Alliance and expects to transfer knowledge from trials and upcoming interoperability tests to that organization in the near future. Dr. Sadri believes that working with the Wi-Fi Alliance, his team can help jumpstart the WiGig certification process, and begin certifying consumer products in early 2014.

In the meantime, however, Dell has already launched an ultrabook laptop with early WiGig technology, and several big companies are likely to demonstrate WiGig in various forms in less than three weeks at CES. In addition to Dell, Dr. Sadri lists Qualcomm Atheros and Marvell as probable candidates, with even more companies showing WiGig in private, back-room demos.

As for how WiGig works, it's a technology that operates in the unlicensed 60 gigahertz (GHz) band of spectrum, with speeds of up to seven gigabits per second (Gbps). It has the backing of numerous large enterprises including Cisco, Intel and Microsoft, and is being included in the 802.11ad specification under development with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The theory is that as wired broadband speeds increase, and bandwidth demands continue to grow, wireless networking has to evolve or risk becoming a bottleneck. A fast Internet connection is only useful if the user can take full advantage of its promised speed.

There are downsides to WiGig. Distance limitations mean WiGig can only deliver speeds of 1 Gbps for a couple hundred meters. The WiGig Alliance is aiming to extend that throughput further, but the technology will never compare to Wi-Fi in range.

And WiGig isn't the only technology operating in the 60 GHz band. Another networking technology called WirelessHD, for example, uses the same spectrum range, though there are safeguards in place to keep the two technologies for interfering with each other. When asked about WirelessHD, Dr. Sadri was not overly enthusiastic. According to him, there's been limited activity around WirelessHD, and he believes manufacturers will hesitate to choose a proprietary technology when WiGig is aiming to be interoperable with numerous other specifications. Analyst firm In-Stat, now part of NPD DisplaySearch, agrees that WiGig has the best shot at long-term success, and predicts that WiGig-enabled computer shipments alone will approach 15 million by 2015.

Ultimately, the potential for WiGig goes beyond consumer applications, and Dr. Sadri envisions someday using WiGig network clusters to cover larger areas with high-speed wireless connectivity. In the short term, however, consumer applications are what will drive commercialization. About CES and WiGig's future, Dr. Sadri is highly optimistic. In his words, "throughput always wins."

Editor's Note: As of January 3, 2013, the Wi-Fi Alliance and WiGig Alliance have announced plans to merge.

Image courtesy of the WiGig Alliance

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Mari Silbey

Contributing Editor

Mari Silbey is an independent tech writer based in Washington, D.C. With a background in cable and telecom, she's a contributor to several trade publications, and part of the GigaOM analyst network. She also writes for the long-running digital media blog Zatz Not Funny, and has written for both corporate and association clients focused on broadband networks, mobile apps, and video delivery. She's a graduate of Duke University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure