A new standard aims to offer gigabit-speed connectivity without the clutter of cables.
What we are talking about here is the ability to download a 25 GB Blu-ray disc in under a minute, says Mark Grodzinsky, chairman of the marketing workgroup at the Wireless Gigabit Alliance. Its not something you can do with Wi-Fi or any other standard right now.
The Wireless Gigabit Alliance, a consortium of electronics companies, has established a specification for 60 gigahertz wireless technology that can offer users data transfer speeds ranging from 1 Gigabits per second to 6 Gbps. To put it simply, WiGig could be at least ten times faster than todays Wi-Fi and it could be available to consumers by the end of next year.
The need for fast wireless data transfer plays into two big trends: the proliferation of multimedia and the increasing cable clutter than users have to deal with.
Users are increasingly getting hooked on Hulu, browsing through Flickr and clicking on YouTube shorts. But for all their new streaming media players or cameras, consumers havent been able to cut the cord.
Take the set-top box in todays home that has to be connected to the TV through an HDMI cable. This is one of those technologies that almost 100 percent uses a wire because the speeds required to stream a high-def 1080p video is at least 3 Gbps, says Grodzinsky, and no wireless technology today can do that across multiple applications.
Thats where WiGig could step in. The standard will allow for extremely fast file transfers, wireless displays, streaming media, and wireless connections for devices such as cameras, laptops and set-top boxes among other things, says the Alliance. It wont have the same range as a Wi-Fi network but it is ideal for devices that want to communicate without wires at gigabit speeds within a room or adjacent rooms, says Grodzinksy.
Todays wireless networks will top out at a few hundred Mbps but what we are talking about here is multiple gigabits of data transfer speed, says Craig Mathias, principal with research firm Farpoint Group. That plays into the ever-increasing demand for throughput.
WiGig joins a fray of wireless standards that are fighting to free consumers from being tethered to their devices. In most homes, Wi-Fi has emerged as the standard technology for wireless access. But it is too slow to handle high-definition video or transfer pictures from the camera to the laptop.
Wireless Standards & Data Speeds
802.11g Wi-Fi: The basic and most widely used Wi-Fi connectivity offers speeds of up to 54 Mbps.
802.11n Wi-Fi: The faster W-Fi standard it offers data transfer at up to 300 Mbps.
Standard Bluetooth: Most widely used between cellphones and headsets, it offers top transfer rate of about 3 Mbps.
Bluetooth 3.0: The high-speed successor to standard Bluetooth, its top transfer rate hover around 24 Mbps.
Wireless USB: It can offer speeds of up to 110 Mbps at a range of 10 meters and 480 Mbps over a range of 3 meters.
Wireless HD: Aimed at HD video transfer it can offer speeds of up to 4 Gbps (for 10 meters). Theoretical speed can go up to 25 Gbps.
WiGig: The newest kid on the block tantalizes with promise of speeds ranging from 1 Gbps to 6 Gbps.
Zigbee: This low-power wireless standard is for applications that require low data transfer but quicker response time such as remote controls.
Meanwhile, other standards such as wireless HD and Zigbee have sprung up offering to solve these problems. But they just arent broad enough to be used across multiple applications. Take wireless HD. Despite its promises of high speed connectivity, it is largely seen as a vehicle for high-def video transfer.
WiGig has a bigger umbrella, says Grodzinsky. We want to be more than simple cable replacement, he says. We want complete interoperability and be on a number of platforms from TVs to notebooks.
WiGig also benefit from the use of the unlicensed 60 GHz spectrum, says Mathias. The availability of greater bandwidth in that spectrum allows for faster transmission.
For now, the specification isnt final. The Wireless Gigabit Alliance hopes to complete it by the end of the year. From there it is up to companies to bring the technology to market. WiGig will also have to battle other technologies to become the de facto standard.
Ultimately, the question is how many different kind of radios do you really need? says Mathias. Theres not just competition from Wi-Fi and wireless HD but also cellular technologies such as 3G, LTE or WiMax.
WiGig is likely to bump up against IEEEs attempts to introduce follow-ups to the 802.11g and 802.11n Wi-Fi standards. The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers), a non-profit organization, has been working on proposals to introduce the extremely high throughput 802.11ac and 802.11ad standards. The 802.11ad standard will also be based on the 60GHz spectrum but is not expected to be available before 2012.
There are competing technologies to WiGig that are looking for standardization, says Mathias. The WiGig Alliance hopes to get a head start now and they might submit their standard to the 802.11ad group to be included in the specification.
Either way this battle of the standards plays out, it is clear for consumers truly high-speed wireless data transfer is zipping into their living room.