Wi-Fi, like ice cream, is coming in many flavors

Coming 802.11ax Wi-Fi promises fast speeds to each user in a crowd; WiGig (802.11ad) gives quickness in a single room

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Even though some reports suggest that 802.11ax will rely on MIMO-OFDM technology, Ennis isn't convinced that will be the only approach. "Various technologies are being proposed and until we go further down the road, it's difficult to say that one part is necessarily going forward."

Still, he called MIMO-OFDM a "very strong candidate" and added, "Huawei's announcement of their test results was a good advertisement for the viability of the technology."

Also, Huawei's use of the 5GHz band doesn't mean 802.11ax will use that band exclusively. "The actual project requirements also say that other bands can be considered, including 2.4 GHz," Ennis said.

Another Wi-Fi for tight spaces: 802.11ad, or WiGig

While 802.11ax Wi-Fi could be promising for large, crowded spaces with multiple users running multiple apps, there's also an emerging IEEE standard called 802.11ad that makes use of the 60GHz band.

Also known as WiGig, 802.11ad is expected to work in a short-range fashion, perhaps within a single room, but at relatively fast transmission rates of about 7Gbps. That would make WiGig ideal for use in a room in an apartment, perhaps to prevent a video stream from bleeding into another room or another apartment or dormitory room.

The 60 GHz band uses very short radio waves, which don't travel through walls easily.

"With Wi-Fi and 802.11ac over 2.4 GHz, going through walls is a good thing because it allow more total home coverage," Ennis said. "But with 802.11ad, short range is a positive in an apartment environment where it won't interfere with the neighbors because it's not going through the wall. You get really high speed in-room capability."

The IEEE ratified 802.11ad in late 2012, and there are few products on the market today that can do things like wirelessly stream an HD video from a Blu-ray player to a video projector (such as the DVDO Air).

The Wi-Fi Alliance is still developing its own WiGig certification process to show which WiGig products will interoperate. The alliance expects to launch a list of interoperable products in 2015, Ennis said.

In early July, Qualcomm announced it had acquired Wilocity, which makes chips based on WiGig. Qualcomm said it will use the WiGig technology in its 64-bit Snapdragon 810 mobile chip. Smartphones and tablets with WiGig are expected ship in the latter half of 2015.

A smartphone that incorporates a WiGig chip could wirelessly transmit a 4K video from a smartphone to a big screen.

Wi-Fi for every situation

With WiGig and 802.11ax on the horizon, Ennis said he's expecting the arrival of routers and devices equipped to work at fast speeds in a variety of settings, from living rooms to outdoor spaces.

Neither standard is widely available today, but 802.11ac products have been on the market for a year. "They are definitely hitting performance points in excess of what consumers need right now, and will continue to satisfy them for the next few years," Ennis said.

"There's no need to wait for products on the coming standards," Ennis advised enterprise customers and consumers alike.

As Wi-Fi expands almost everywhere, there will be implications for city governments that want to provide Wi-Fi in public spaces as well as companies and nonprofits that want to offer services on their campuses or in malls.

Even major cellular carriers like Verizon Wireless and AT&T are planning networks that will rely on greater Wi-Fi capacity, sometimes joining Wi-Fi hot zones to their fastest LTE networks.

In the Kansas City area, Google's installation of Google Fiber to homes has helped prompt a proliferation of wireless Wi-Fi technologies as well. Cable provider Time Warner said in May that it had provisioned 11,000 Wi-Fi hotspots for its Kansas City customers on both sides of the Missouri-Kansas border.

Cisco, meanwhile, said it is working with Kansas City, Mo., officials to launch a new network for smart city services that will rely heavily on the use of mobile apps.

The Wi-Fi Alliance also has a Passpoint certification program that focuses on improving a user's connection and ease of access and discovery of Wi-Fi hotspots.

"Wi-Fi is being incorporated within all kinds of devices and it's now a must for [organizations] to be supporting it," Ennis said.

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 email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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