Wi-Fi Networking Headed for 60GHz, Gigabit Speeds

New unlicensed spectrum set to be the home for the next generation of high-speed Wi-Fi connectivity.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted May 10, 2010
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Wireless networking is about to get a whole lot faster thanks to a new 60GHz spectrum specification from the Wireless Gigabit Alliance, an industry consortium working with existing standards groups to push the spec forward.

Currently, Wi-Fi operates in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrums with dual-band 802.11n wireless gear. Now, however, the new WiGig 60GHz specification is aimed at enabling new, tri-band devices that will be able to leverage 2.4GHz, 5GHz and 60GHz and will scale up to transfer speeds of 7 gigabits per second. Leading the effort is the Wireless Gigabit (WiGig) Alliance in connection with the Wi-Fi Alliance, the key industry body overseeing Wi-Fi standards.

"It is a new area of spectrum that is interesting and will allow Wi-Fi use in yet another band," Wi-Fi Alliance CEO Edgar Figueroa told InternetNews.com. "Another compelling reason that makes this interesting is that 60GHz technology allows for a significant boost in performance. We're talking about speeds measured in gigabits per seconds of transfer."

The WiGig Alliance is a vendor effort that was formed to help develop specifications for gigabit wireless technologies. Figueroa noted that the Wi-Fi Alliance remains a separate organization tasked with growing the entire Wi-Fi ecosystem and providing certification, though he added that two organizations share many of the same members.

While the 60GHz WiGig specification is now complete, the path towards multi-gigabit Wi-Fi won't happen overnight. The Wi-Fi Alliance is now ramping up its certification efforts that will eventually enable 60GHz interoperability with Wi-Fi gear.

"We envision that at some point, when we're done our certification program, you'll see ... tri-band product in the 2.4, 5.0 and 60GHz operation," Figueroa said. "With our certification program, one of the goals will be to make the user experience as seamless as possible."

Figueroa added that as an example, if a 60GHz operation on a tri-band device is best suited at a particular time, then it will be used. Otherwise, as users or devices are in situations where 60GHz is not needed, the tri-band device could downscale to 802.11n with 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz. The tri-band operation will all be certified under the Wi-Fi certified brand.

It's not yet clear whether the new 60GHz Wi-Fi technology will get some kind of marketing name or additional nomenclature for identification.

"We are very early in this and we expect to be able to discuss this more," Figueroa said. "I can tell you that it will be Wi-Fi certified. As far as whether there will be any other differentiators, that's currently not a goal."

The Wi-Fi Alliance recently discussed its views on where wireless networking was headed over the next five years and among the challenges cited was a need to expedite the delivery of next generation standards. When it come to 60GHz technology, Figueroa doesn't see any large challenges with getting 60GHz technology Wi-Fi certified.

"We don't envision that there be any obstacles with 60GHz beyond what we normally deal with, things like radio co-existence, interoperability and conformance to specifications," Figueroa said. "So potentially the path is clear for us to proceed and develop products and interoperability around a compelling feature set."

Still, Figueroa said the effort does not have a specific timeline for when 60GHz Wi-Fi certified gear will be available.

"The specific timeline will be impacted by things like how long it will take Wi-Fi Alliance members to agree on what the included features should be," Figueroa said. "Another area is how difficult it will prove to incorporate features into products, and last but not least, the Wi-Fi Alliance has a process to bring products into a test environment and establish interoperability."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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