In general, complexity is bad. In the world of wireless networking, however, at least one type of complexity has an upside. It is a byproduct of the fact that there are an increasing number of choices. Each of these options offers unique advantages for a particular set of use cases.
Many of these are from the very successful 802.11 family of specifications from The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)'s 802.11 family of standards. One of these is 802.11ad, which is marketed under the name WiGig, short for Wireless Gigabit. It can achieve data rates as fast as 7 Gigabits per second (Gbps) and operates in the 60GHz frequency range.
WiGig carries a tremendous amount of data over short distances at very low latency. These characteristics give WiGig a valuable niche, says Ron Glibbery, the CEO of WiGig chip maker Peraso Technologies. While it can be used for limited outdoor line of sight (LoS) implementations, WiGig's bread and butter is in-room communications. Indeed, its fragile nature is an advantage. Since signals at this frequency can be blocked by walls, different WiGig streams can be transmitted in adjacent rooms without interfering with each other.
The main application to date is virtual reality (VR), which seems to be both a lucrative sector and a beachhead from which it is expected to grow. "WiGig is really starting to find its groove, if you will," Glibbery told IT Business Edge. "If you think about VR, the main characteristic is that it needs very high data rates for video and, related to that, it also needs low latency."
At this point, the uses are one-off type applications in which lots of bandwidth is necessary. Another example is docking stations that will quickly download video at an airport kiosk, according to Anshel Sag, an associate analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.
The feeling is that this is just the beginning for WiGig. The ecosystem is forming, according to Khin Sandi Lynn, an industry analyst at ABI Research. "[B]roadband CPE vendors and chipset makers are increasingly providing WiGig," she wrote in response to emailed questions from IT Business Edge. "In the CPE market, TP-Link, Netgear [and] Acelink are providing WiGig routers. In chipset market, Peraso and Intel are working for development of WiGig game consoles, gaming PCs. Intel and Qualcomm are also focusing on wireless VR headsets supporting WiGig connectivity."
More network-oriented use cases are on the horizon. "I also see a time and place where WiGig is used to interconnect your smart home devices so that the underlying Wi-Fi network running 802.11AC or 802.11AX will be capable of delivering faster speeds and more consistent coverage," Sag wrote in response to emailed questions from IT Business Edge. "I could see a time when our laptops have WiGig built-in and interface with accessories like external hard drives that have WiGig chipsets inside of them as well."
The year ahead may be pivotal. "As 5G deployment approaches, the uses of applications which require high capacity connectivity are expected to increase," Lynn wrote. "ASUS launched a smartphone supporting WiGig lately and chipset manufacturers have expressed possibility of more smartphones with WiGig to enter the market in 2018. We expect that all these factors are likely to drive the WiGig adoption rate in the years to come."
There are two ways (at least) that the world of wireless is divided. One is between long- and short-distance applications and one between licensed and unlicensed spectrum. In this context, WiGig is positioned perfectly.
Its localized but extremely high data rates will be useful. In a world in which a tremendous amount of bandwidth is delivered to homes and businesses, it makes sense to have a platform within those structures capable of tracking data at comparable speeds.
The most important role of WiGig may turn out to be filling broadband providers' offerings by eliminating the weakest link as data nears subscribers. A potential scenario, Glibbery said, is a broadband company offering a high-speed entertainment service that uses WiGig in the home to provide a cornucopia of bandwidth. "There is a trend toward mesh architecture in home for Wi-Fi," Glibbery said. "The idea is, say there are four APs distributed throughout the house. In any given room, those APs can use [WiGig] technology to provide gigabit links."
There is a second great advantage: WiGi operates in unlicensed frequencies and therefore is free. Carriers are tapping into crowded Wi-Fi spectrum because it is free. WiGig may be even more attractive because it operates in largely empty areas where many of the complications that make use of unlicensed spectrum challenge are absent.
"I believe that experience and expertise in WiGig is a strong precursor to being able to accomplish 5G wireless on the client side. 5G is raising the profile of WiGig because of some of their similarities and the advances made in performance and size of the chipsets," Sag wrote.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at email@example.com and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.