If all goes according to plan, super-fast wireless networking could be just around the corner. The Wireless Gigabit Alliance has announced the completion of the very first unified multi-gigabit wireless specification, which uses a 60GHz frequency and enables speeds of up to 7Gbps (almost 900MB/s) over short distances—that’s more than ten times the speed of the existing 802.11n standard.
The WiGig specification is "now ready for member review," the Alliance says, and it should be available to WiGig member adopters in the first quarter of next year. A total of 30 companies are already backing the standard: Nvidia, AMD, SK Telecom, and TMC joined the Alliance this quarter, and older members include Atheros, Broadcom, Dell, Intel, LG, Marvell, Microsoft, NEC, Nokia, Panasonic, Realtek, Ralink, Samsung, Texas Instruments, Toshiba, and more. Yes, that’s about all of the big industry players.
WiGig is designed to be backward compatible with the existing 802.11n standard. Once WiGig-enabled devices start hitting the market, they should be able to switch seamlessly from multi-gigabit 60GHz WiGig to slower 2.4 or 5GHz Wi-Fi as they get out of range. Within 30 to 60 feet of an access point, depending on the implementation, users may be able to enjoy gigabit speeds. Any further from the base than that, the wireless device will likely switch over to 802.11n, which has a range of up to 300 feet or so. (As with WiGig, though, speed drops with distance.)
Users shouldn’t need to re-authenticate when switching between WiGig and Wi-Fi, either, because WiGig encryption is also backward compatible with WPA2. The WiGig Alliance did have to "enhance" the current standard to avoid running into performance bottlenecks, though.
Best of all, WiGig hardware shouldn’t make laptops more expensive or less mobile. WiGig Board Director and marketing chief Chair Mark Grodzinsky told us WiGig wireless LAN devices will have similar power and cost envelopes to existing 802.11n products.
Ultra-fast wireless has uses other than plain old networking and file sharing, too. The WiGig Alliance also intends to enable wireless HDMI and DisplayPort connectivity. With all three major graphics hardware vendors—AMD, Intel, and Nvidia—backing the standard, you can probably count on being able to connect TVs and monitors to next-gen PCs wirelessly before too long.
Because the specification enables both high-performance and low-power applications, WiGig will also show up on smart phones. On those devices, the technology could have uses like connecting to a television or transferring music and video files from a PC wirelessly. Grodzinsky seemed hopeful that next-generation smart phones with fast processors will be speedy enough to take advantage of WiGig.
So, where does the Wi-Fi Alliance stand in all this? The two entities are separate, but they are talking to each other, and they share many of the same members. Grodzinsky portrayed the two bodies as complementary: the Wi-Fi Alliance focuses more on certification, he said, while the WiGig Alliance is focusing on spec development. Once the dust settles, the Wi-Fi alliance could potentially end up certifying WiGig products.