Richard Mumford, MWJ International Editor
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RichardMumford

Richard applies his technical background as an engineer and journalist for various engineering magazines to his position as international editor. Serving as MWJ’s liaison to the international microwave community, Richard files his monthly international report and contributed articles from our London office.

5G/Massive MIMO Channel

Wi-Fi Alliance Certifies WiGig – what it means for the Wi-Fi ecosystem

December 16, 2016

WiGig® (802.11ad Wi-Fi) is now officially a certified standard. The certification focuses on “foundational elements of WiGig interoperability”, with future program releases including support for infrastructure networking and even faster data rates. In short, this means multi-vendor interoperability can happen, which gives Blu Wireless Technology and everyone else in the market greater confidence to develop and advance WiGig and millimetre wave technologies.

ABI has predicted that WiGig is on the “verge of a breakout year” in 2017. And as the Wi-Fi Alliance states in its certification press release: “many major chipset vendors supporting WiGig, a variety of access points entering the market, and WiGig-enabled networking and mobile products [are] expected to be announced over the next year. Wi-Fi Alliance certification focuses on foundational elements of WiGig interoperability, with future program releases including support for infrastructure networking and even faster data rates.”

With the certification having just taken place, we thought we’d give a quick overview on what WiGig is and how it fits into the whole Wi-Fi® ecosystem.

What is WiGig

WiGig operates in the 60 GHz spectrum – versus 2.4 GHz (802.11b, g n) and 5 GHz (802.11n, ac) – which has both more bandwidth and less interference available to it.

For bandwidth, depending on the region, this is typically 7 GHz (albeit Europe has 9 GHz and China has 5 GHz) with the FCC in the US recently announcing that it would be freeing an additional and continuous 7 GHz above the existing 57-64 GHz band.

And in terms of interference, not only is it not congested due to it being a relatively young standard, but millimetre waves are attenuated by oxygen, meaning its range is short and competing 802.11ad transceivers can operate in relatively close proximity to one another without affecting the other. Also, the huge bandwidth available to it means it can operate with frequency division multiplexing, even in congested areas.

As the Wi-Fi Alliance press release put it: “A unique combination of capabilities in the 60 GHz frequency enable WiGig devices to achieve data rates of up to 8 Gbps, allowing the download of an HD movie in just seconds. WiGig devices bring extremely high performance that is critical to delivering a wired-grade experience for a variety of in-room and outdoor line-of-sight scenarios.”

Why it’s needed

Unlike other existing variants of Wi-Fi, 802.11ad WiGig is not just a backward-compatible evolution of what went before it, but with a greater range and a higher throughput. The standard is a dedicated channel for very-high-throughput data transfers.

From a consumer electronics point of view, it enables a 4K film to be transferred in a matter of minutes, 60 GB in just 2.3 minutes according to Strategy Analytics’ independent tests from earlier in 2016. This isn’t just a case of replacing an HDMI cable for aesthetic purposes, but the necessary result of how we now consume and store media. The TV, while not usurped by the tablet and phone, is certainly not the only screen we now watch. And the DVD player is not the main way to play films anymore. Neilson (2014) states c.2.6 million US homes now watch exclusively online through services like Netflix, Amazon and/or Hulu.

The majority of services (Netflix being the first) now supply some or much of their content in 4K and to do this (according to Netflix) you need an absolute minimum of a stable 15.6 Mbps connection and ideally 50 Mbps plus. This means that, outside of South Korea and Hong Kong, the average person would need to download and store 4K films on the home-hub rather than buffered.

The standard is also a vital part of the plan for 5G communications. With 5G using millimetre wave technologies in both the licensed and unlicensed spectrum. In July the US’s regulator (and with other regions already following suit – for example Ofcom in the UK) the FCC voted unanimously to approve the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding and make spectrum bands above 24 GHz available for 5G.

At the time, the FCC stated: “these rules set a strong foundation for the rapid advancement to next-generation 5G networks and technologies in the United States”, with the high-frequency spectrum supporting “innovative new uses enabled by fibre-fast wireless speeds and extremely low latency.”

Initially this will be through backhaul, and there are already several projects that are underway using WiGig-esque techniques for 5G – e.g. self optimisation through open flow. And from 2020 you will likely see 28 GHz millimetre wave technology making its way onto handsets.

What it will enable

The list is long and distinguished – with augmented and virtual reality included in the Wi-Fi Alliance’s list, in addition to 5G and wireless docking/multimedia streaming and gaming applications – but our favourite two in addition to the 5G mentioned above are probably:

1) Push video on demand: with huge quantities of free and SMS-unlockable premium HD video being downloaded overnight then transmitted to the handset for viewing while commuting.

2) 4K video rental from the mobile: and any other multimedia streaming. But the very high bandwidth means you can stream a 60 GB file in less than three minutes, making it ideal for a quick transfer of files to the handset that can then be transmitted to a 4K TV.

What is available

Chips are already available and are making their way into consumer devices. The major chip developers – Qualcomm and Intel – all have offerings. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 802.11ac/ad ready SoC is already making its way onto cellphone handsets, with tier-2 vendors such as LeTV announcing a WiGig phone based on the chipset at CES in January 2016. Recently, the first major handset manufacturer (Google) announced two models (the Pixel and Pixel XL) that are directly aimed at the top end of the market, which is dominated by the iPhone, and these are based on the Snapdragon 820 chipset.

Add into the mix devices such as Qualcomm’s 802.11ad TV dongle reference design – which bears a striking resemblance to Google’s Chromecast – and you can see significant growth of the ecosystem. Phil Solis, Research Director, ABI Research. “Soon, power cords and video cables used for PCs and HDMI cables used for consumer electronics will nearly disappear, and devices will leverage the brand, ubiquity, of Wi-Fi for continued momentum across the industry.”

And the Wi-Fi Alliance states multi-band Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 60 GHz) products are forecast to reach nearly 560 million by 2018, which is great news.

But at the same time as the market is taking off, it’s fair to say the next level of wireless chip developers below Qualcomm and Intel have not had the R&D resources available to develop both this and 802.11ac at the same time. Which is where IP developers such as ourselves come into the picture. By using our IP, device manufacturers can quickly and cost-effectively develop and launch industry leading wireless ICs with WiGig and millimetre wave functionality, be it for consumer electronics, for 4/5G mobile applications or for last-mile infrastructure.

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