WiGig Alliance allies with Wi-Fi group for superfast wireless

Intel, Microsoft are just two of the big tech companies backing the Wireless Gigabit Alliance

Two international short-range wireless industry groups announced an agreement on Monday to promote faster Wi-Fi in the 60 GHz frequency band, as well as the two bands where Wi-Fi now operates.

Use of the 60 GHz band, which is also unlicensed, would give users the ability to send data at much faster speeds than with existing Wi-Fi, into the 1 Gbit/sec., or faster, realm. With the new standard, a user could send a high-definition video across a living room wirelessly from an HD player to an HD television, eliminating the need for a cabled connection.

The two groups, the Wi-Fi Alliance and the Wireless Gigabit Alliance (also known as WiGig Alliance), announced they will cooperate on multi-gigabit networking within the 60 GHz band.

Wi-Fi traditionally works within the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, and the Wi-Fi Alliance wants coming 60 GHz-capable devices be backwards compatible with existing Wi-Fi specifications, Wi-Fi Alliance CEO Edgar Figueroa told Computerworld.

WiGig announced a specification in December, which it said at the time would result in data transfer rates between devices of more than 10 times faster than today's wireless LANs, or up to 7 Gbit/sec., about 10 times the 802.11n rate.

Figueroa, however, would not discuss the rates that would result from the alliance announced on Monday, saying only it would support 1 Gbit/sec. speeds or faster.

WiGig had already attracted leading manufacturers of semi-conductors to its board, including Intel Corp. and Marvell International Ltd. The board also includes a range of computing device makers, such as Dell Inc., LG Electronics, Nokia Corp., Samsung Electroincs Co. and Toshiba Corp. Microsoft Corp. is also a board member.

ABI Research forecasts that various manufacturers will build 2 million 60 GHz chipsets by 2015, and the analysis firm has been tracking several industry groups that want to make products within the 60 Ghz band.

Some analysts believe that the specification announced by WiGig will eliminate competing standards groups such as WirelessHD supporters, which is backed by 40 companies, but ABI's Xavier Ortiz said that WiGig can co-exist alongside rival industry groups.

"I don't think the two groups are going to fight each other to the death, and each will focus on their market," he said. WirelessHD has more of a focus on streaming of HD TV signals inside of homes, while WiGig seems to have a greater focus on sharing data between device, perhaps sending a backup of a personal computer to a storage device.

WirelessHD products are beginning to emerge from SiBeam and Georgia Tech for receiving and transmitting video signals -- but they are expensive, Ortiz said.

In a statement issued in April, Ortiz said that WiGig's joining with the Wi-Fi Alliance means that WiGig's approach "will likely be successful."

Figueroa said the Wi-Fi Alliance has not ruled out working with the WirelessHD group. "We are going to be considering all the 60 GHz groups for how compelling they are and how well-suited to complement Wi-Fi," he said.

In addition to video transfers wirelessly, Figuroa said future applications for 60 Ghz services could be PC backup or transfer of a PC's data to a new PC. Future applications could allow a user to pull up in a car to a kiosk and download a DVD to a portable device wirelessly. "You could do that in a matter of seconds with this speed," he said.

A one-hour HD video can take 45 minutes to download with Wi-Fi, in comparison.

Figueroa said it might take two years for products to appear, but one central function of the Wi-Fi Alliance will be to certify that products are interoperable.

"Most users don't want a spaghetti bowl of cables behind a device like a TV," Figuroa said. "They want the freedom that wireless provides, and this WiGig is an extension of what we've been providing for 10 years with Wi-Fi."

Wi-Fi is already available on nearly 1 billion Wi-Fi devices globally, and the group estimates that 10% of all people in the world use Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is growing so fast that 800 million more devices will be shipped with Wi-Fi in 2010, he said.

Initially, WiGig is expected to have a significantly shorter range than Wi-Fi, he added. Wi-Gig would reach across a living room, while Wi-Fi reaches across a football field or more.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at  @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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