Wi-Fi, WirelessHD cozy up to WiGig standard

The high-speed wireless group will cooperate with the Wi-Fi Alliance while rival SiBeam is offering dual-mode silicon

The Wireless Gigabit Alliance may be on its way to dominating the market for multi-gigabit in-room wireless networks after the powerful Wi-Fi Alliance said it would study the group's specification as part of Wi-Fi certification and a key rival announced it would include WiGig in dual-mode chips.

The WiGig Alliance last month released a specification for wireless networks that use frequencies in the 60GHz band for throughput as high as 7G bps (bits per second). The 60GHz band is just beginning to be used for consumer applications but may be attractive for future uses such as streaming high-definition video because it can offer such high speeds, albeit without the range to cover an average home. Unlicensed frequencies are available in the band in most countries, according to WiGig.

Under an agreement that is being announced Monday, the Wi-Fi Alliance will evaluate WiGig technology for integration into its future 60GHz specification. As part of the same agreement, the WiGig group will gain access to Wi-Fi Alliance specifications so it can further align its own technology to those standards.

Also on Monday, SiBeam, the main proponent of an alternative 60GHz technology called WirelessHD, said it is now making dual-mode WirelessHD/WiGig silicon. The chips are available now in sample quantities, and SiBeam will have a reference design for customers in June, said SiBeam President and CEO John LeMoncheck. Unlike the developers of WiGig, SiBeam is already shipping chips that are being integrated into consumer electronics products such as TVs. But it is the only significant chip maker behind WirelessHD.

SiBeam isn't giving in to WiGig, LeMoncheck said. Rather, the two technologies have different strengths and SiBeam is offering to provide its customers with both, he said. While WirelessHD was designed for video streaming between two devices, WiGig is oriented more toward data networking and is not as well-suited to video, he said. WirelessHD has theoretical throughput of 28G bps compared with WiGig's 7G bps, so it's better equipped for the higher-definition video standards of the future, according to LeMoncheck.

"They are fundamentally different in terms of the applications they serve and where they play, and we as a chip company are happy to serve both those markets," LeMoncheck said.

Another high-speed wireless technology, WHDI (Wireless Home Digital Interface), is also available on some shipping consumer products but doesn't directly compete because it operates in the 5GHz range.

The WiGig Alliance was formed about a year ago by many of the biggest makers of Wi-Fi silicon along with Microsoft, Nokia and major consumer electronics makers. It completed a technology specification in December and last month released it to outside developers, free of royalties.

Wi-Fi chip makers Intel, Broadcom and Atheros have voiced a desire to make WiGig an extension of Wi-Fi, allowing users to take advantage of multi-gigabit speeds while near to a device or access point and falling back to conventional Wi-Fi rates when they move beyond the range of the 60GHz signal. With Wi-Fi already widely adopted around the world, being combined with that standard could give WiGig an easy path into networked products and users' homes.

On Monday, the two groups are announcing a cooperation agreement that seems set to bring the two standards together, though all the Wi-Fi Alliance is committing to so far is studying the WiGig specification for possible use.

"We certainly will evaluate thoroughly their specification and perhaps certify for it," said Wi-Fi Alliance CEO Edgar Figueroa.

The 60GHz task group within the Wi-Fi Alliance may study the WiGig specification for weeks or months before deciding what components, if any, to bring into its own 60GHz standard, said Ali Sadri, chairman and president of the WiGig Alliance. The Wi-Fi Alliance is not an official standards body but effectively has the power of one because its widely recognized brand name is the one most associated with the wildly popular wireless LAN technology. The group has already jumped ahead of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) to set de facto standards such as Draft 802.11n.

The role of the Wi-Fi Alliance is to make sure products from different vendors work together in all the ways they claim to when a consumer gets them home and tries to make them communicate, Figueroa said. Thus, if WiGig were made part of Wi-Fi and products got a special certification for that capability, consumers would know they could smoothly hand off a session from 60GHz to other Wi-Fi bands, he said.

If WiGig were offered as part of mass-market, relatively low-cost Wi-Fi chips, consumer electronics vendors could include the standard without investing in a separate processor, which is an important consideration in a price-driven market, according to industry analysts.

For its part, WiGig has already written into its specification procedures for handing off sessions to the existing 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi frequency bands. But the Wi-Fi Alliance can afford to take its time considering what else it might tap into for the high-frequency standard, said Parks Associates analyst Kurt Scherf.

"Why commit at this point? They've got all the power," Scherf said.

Monday's deal may not be exclusive for either side. Interoperability with Wi-Fi would probably begin with basic functions such as LAN connectivity and Wi-Fi Direct, a peer-to-peer form of data communication, Sadri said. To certify WiGig products for other uses, such as wireless HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface), WiGig may turn to other standards bodies such as HDMI Licensing, he said.

Meanwhile, the tie-up would be unlikely to bear fruit in the form of consumer products until the second half of 2011, in the estimation of Scherf.

But a partnership between WiGig and Wi-Fi could be a turning point in the 60GHz market, analysts said.

"It is potentially a game-changer," said In-Stat analyst Brian O'Rourke. The partnership gives WiGig more credibility and Wi-Fi a path to higher speeds than the 100Mbps to 600Mbps that 802.11n offers, he said.

Given this deal, SiBeam probably will have to find a way to interoperate with Wi-Fi, analysts said. But SiBeam's LeMoncheck thinks there is little need for a handoff capability from WirelessHD to Wi-Fi because WirelessHD is designed primarily for video streaming within a room.

Integration with Wi-Fi probably would be a gradual process, O'Rourke said. For one thing, there are special challenges to adding 60GHz capabilities to a chip. "The higher the frequency, the more difficult the manufacturing issues," he said. "As the frequency goes up, the interference issues are multiplied."

Yet even late next year won't be too late to capitalize on demand that is still nascent, Scherf of Parks Associates said. Users simply don't need 7G bps to link a laptop to a nearby monitor or storage device, he said. The first application that will really demand such a technology probably will be streaming or copying movies from Blu-Ray discs wirelessly rather than over an HDMI cable, he said.

Tags Wi-FiWiGig AllianceWi-Fi Alliancewireless

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service

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