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WTF is... WiGig

Wireless wonder to soup up networks, kill USB, HDMI cables?

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Feature It's now more than two years since the Wireless Gigabit Alliance (WGA) released the first full version of its 7Gb/s would-be next-gen Wi-Fi technology. There's been some activity in the intervening 26 months, including the first big multi-vendor interoperability test, but the second of these "plugfests" has only now taken place.

So why is it taking so darn long to get WiGig, the standard the WGA is promoting as the future not only of wireless networking but of cable-free computing too, into our hands? We need it now: we're streaming more HD video, doing more back-ups over the network, swapping more files between laptops, tablets and phones than ever before.

WiGig emerged in 2008, arising out of work done during the first half of the last decade to devise wireless technologies for streaming HD video content from players to screens, many of them based on ultrawideband technology operating in the 60GHz band: the section of the electromagnetic spectrum running from 57.24GHz to 65.88GHz.

Wireless HD? Why restrict it to tellies?

Why, said the minds behind WiGig, should we limit such technology to streaming video between set-top boxes and TVs? What about all the other types of data consumer electronics kit, computers and phones share? And why limit it to speed sufficient for compressed 1080p video and multi-channel audio?

The upshot of such conceptual thinking: Wireless Gigabit, a networking technology that extends Wi-Fi into the 60GHz band to ramp up speeds to a theoretical peak of 7Gb/s, for a multi-antenna, multi-carrier set-up, or 4.3Gb/s for single-aerial, low-power applications. It would incorporate Wi-Fi for compatibility with existing wireless networking software stacks, combined with a 60GHz PHY for the actual transmission.

In May 2009, the WGA was formed to steer the specification's development and promote the finished product. By the end of the year, it was promising a Q1 2010 release of the WiGig 1.0. It was late, as these things often are, but not so very much: the WGA published the spec in May 2010.

WiGig standardised

At the same time, international standards body the IEEE agreed to use WiGig spec as the basis for its 802.11ad 60GHz networking standard, what will undoubtedly be the next generation of Wi-Fi.

The technology isn't perfect, of course. While 60GHz operation makes for much faster speeds than the 2.4GHz or even 5GHz bands can provide – higher frequencies for speedier per-frequency transmission, and a much wider frequency range to ensure more data can be transmitted in parallel – the range falls significantly too. Down to a few metres in fact, though the WGA says that WiGig's incorporation of beamforming techniques allow it to reach beyond 10m.

WiGig devices will be able to negotiate a specific beam path and tune their directional antennae accordingly. If someone interrupts the beam – no, 60GHz signals won't pass easily through people – the devices quickly pick a different path, relying on a nearby wall to reflect the beam around the obstacle.

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