Wi-Fi Alliance to take over WiGig development, certification

The fast, short-range wireless technology will gain a much larger sponsor under a pending agreement

The long courtship between the Wi-Fi Alliance and the Wireless Gigabit Alliance, which promotes a fast wireless LAN technology that runs on very high frequencies, is set to end in marriage just a little too late for the International CES trade show next week.

Under a memorandum of understanding reached just last week, the WiGig Alliance is to be folded into the Wi-Fi group, which will take over all WiGig development and promotion activities. The organizations expect the deal to become final by the end of this quarter, said Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing and program management director at the Wi-Fi Alliance.

WiGig can deliver up to 7Gbps (bits per second) of theoretical throughput, much more than even the 802.11ac flavor of Wi-Fi that is now coming out in many network and mobile devices. But because it operates over 60GHz spectrum, it is intended mostly for use within a room. Vendors are aiming the system initially at device-to-device functions such as wireless docking, synchronization and linking to displays.

The WiGig Alliance kicked off its effort to standardize the high-speed but relatively short-range system in 2009 and forecast it would be on the market in 2011. But despite the backing of big names including Intel, Broadcom and Microsoft, there still are no certified WiGig products or even a program to officially approve them. Some of those involved in the effort have said the technology, which operates in the super-high frequency range of 60GHz, has proved more challenging than was expected.

Certification tests are now expected around December of this year, with approved products going on sale soon after, Davis-Felner said. Under the new agreement, that program will be run by the Wi-Fi Alliance, the successful and powerful industry group that's behind the wireless LAN standard and its many extensions.

Products based on the current state of the technology are set to go on sale early in the year and shouldn't face problems working with later certified products, according to Mark Grodzinsky, vice president of marketing at Wilocity, a maker of 60GHz chips that has been active in the WiGig Alliance. Wilocity has deals to build its silicon into chipsets from Qualcomm Atheros, Marvell, and other wireless vendors, Grodzinsky said.

The first product to hit the market with the technology will be the Dell Latitude 6430U Windows 8 ultrabook, equipped with a combination Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and pre-standard WiGig chipset from Qualcomm Atheros and Wilocity, he said. Other laptops equipped with it will come soon after, Grodzinsky said.

The first use for WiGig in those products will be wireless docking. Laptop makers will sell docking stations, equipped with wired ports for USB devices, monitors and other peripherals, to which slim laptops will be able to connect via the wireless technology, Grodzinsky said. Wilocity's first chip, optimized for cost and power consumption, won't run at 7Gbps but will be able to fill the 2.5Gbps PCI Express bus in a laptop, he said.

Tablets, access points and storage products with the technology will probably go on sale later this year, he said.

WiGig may also replace HDMI cables for sending high-definition video to displays from other devices, according to analyst Craig Mathias of Farpoint Research. Sending uncompressed 1080p video requires about 3.5Gbps of throughput, he said.

Though the Wi-Fi Alliance will certify products for WiGig, it won't use the well-known Wi-Fi moniker for those certifications, reserving that brand for technologies that use traditional Wi-Fi frequencies around 2.4GHz and 5GHz, according to Davis-Felner. The group won't use its main technology moniker because WiGig is not backward compatible with Wi-Fi, due to their spectrum differences, and because the two systems will have different uses.

The two groups have been working together since at least 2010, when they announced a liaison agreement under which the Wi-Fi Alliance said it would evaluate the WiGig technology for integration into its future 60GHz specification. But combining the two groups before this would have been premature, Wilocity's Grodzinsky said. Lengthy standardization work held up the move, he said.

Because the memorandum of understanding came so late, the two groups won't be able to combine their efforts at CES, the annual consumer electronics gathering that is the natural stage for such technologies, Davis-Felner said. However, there may be informal meetings between them there, she said.

The merging of the two groups was widely expected, Farpoint Group's Mathias said. The many delays WiGig has faced don't worry Mathias, who says WiGig will be an important technology in time. "Things always take longer than the proponents advocate," he said.

The key to WiGig's importance is the amount of spectrum available for it to use in the 60GHz band, he said. Based on different laws in various countries, there's between 7GHz and 9GHz of unlicensed spectrum there for it, Mathias said.

"If you're looking for the absolute maximum possible throughput on a wireless connection, this is likely to be it," Mathias said. He expects further development of WiGig to give it speeds of 30Gbps or more.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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