WiGig wireless notches another chip partnership

Marvell will work with WiGig specialist Wilocity on fast chipsets for in-room wireless

Wi-Fi chip makers are lining up to add WiGig technology to their wireless LAN products, preparing the way for tri-band equipment that can deliver multi-gigabit speeds within a room.

On Monday, Marvell Technology Group became the second Wi-Fi silicon vendor to announce a deal with WiGig specialist Wilocity, following an announcement earlier this year by Qualcomm Atheros. Wilocity says it has still more relationships that it's not allowed to disclose.

WiGig was announced in 2009 as a fast, short-range wireless technology backed by the Wireless Gigabit Alliance, which included Intel, Microsoft, Samsung, Wilocity and several other wireless players. It's designed to hit real-world speeds of 2Gbps (bits per second) or more by using a fat band of unlicensed spectrum around 60GHz, far higher than the frequencies used by today's Wi-Fi. Using those high frequencies delivers more speed but also limits WiGig's ability to penetrate walls, so it's not intended as a replacement for Wi-Fi.

The technical complexity of wireless networking at 60GHz has helped push WiGig's mainstream debut beyond the Alliance's original forecast of 2010, said Mark Grodzinsky, Wilocity's vice president of marketing. WiGig will be based on the emerging IEEE 802.11ad standard, which is on track for approval by the end of this year and should not face any more significant changes, he said.

Meanwhile, the Wi-Fi Alliance, which certifies products for today's Wi-Fi technologies, said it is also planning to certify products based on 802.11ad. Its certification program won't start before next year, and the group doesn't plan to call 60GHz products Wi-Fi. It reserves that name for gear that uses the two traditional Wi-Fi bands.

Both Marvell and Atheros plan to use WiGig in chipsets they will position as tri-band, allowing for use in Wi-Fi's 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands as well as the 60GHz range. Broadcom has also said it plans 802.11ad products. Ultimately, users should be able to access wireless LANs at various speeds and ranges depending on where they are, with the fast WiGig option available within rooms.

But the initial push by Wilocity and these partners will be for device-to-device functions such as wireless docking, synchronization and display connections, Grodzinsky said. Wireless docking stations should be the first marketable use of WiGig, because they could make it easier to connect small, thin devices such as ultrabooks to desktop peripherals, he said.

Once some users have bought some WiGig-equipped products for these functions, it will be easier to promote the technology for wireless LANs, Grodzinsky said.

"That's a very easy, logical way of bundling products together to seed the market," Grodzinsky said. "The full tri-band vision is a lot more than docking."

The deal with Marvell should help to get WiGig into more consumer products, because that company supplies more chips to that market, Grodzinsky said. Atheros is better positioned in the PC business, he said. He expects to see the new partnership bring about consumer electronics and Wi-Fi infrastructure products starting next year. Atheros-based docks are set to hit before the end of this year, he said.

As for cost, WiGig chips should start out about where IEEE 802.11n did before it became a mass-market product, and their cost should likewise come down through economies of scale, Grodzinsky said.

"The only difference between Wi-Fi that's selling today for low single digits and us, is that they've sold a billion of them," Grodzinski said.

Specialized functions such as docking and video streaming are small opportunities compared with faster wireless LANs, said Farpoint Group analyst Craig Mathias. The 60GHz band is irresistible because it has between 7MHz and 9MHz of unlicensed spectrum available in it, regardless of any limitations on network range, he said.

"The real money is out there in high-performance wireless LANs. You can never have enough network capacity," Mathias said.

He expects WiGig capability to be sold as one more form of Wi-Fi, with users eventually being able to move onto 60GHz without even knowing.

"This idea of tri-band is very powerful and I think you're probably going to see a significant emphasis on that approach," Mathias said. "It'll all eventually live under the Wi-Fi umbrella, whether the Wi-Fi Alliance wants it to or not," he added.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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