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WTF is... WiGig

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

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Room to roam

Getting a signal through impermeable walls is another matter. Handy, then, that Wi-Fi is part of the scheme, since it provides a fall-back network when a connected device moves out of line-of-sight of the base-station.

Unconcerned by distance considerations, VESA, the organisation behind the DisplayPort digital monitor connectivity standard selected WiGig as the basis for a wireless version of the computer-to-screen system, which the WGA duly announced, in November 2010, as WiGig AV.

Since then, the WGA has published WiGig 1.1 and extended the specification to allow it to operate as a transport for PCI Express and USB traffic, as the WiGig Bus Extension (WBE) and the WiGig Serial Extension (WSE), respectively. WiGig AV became WiGig Display Extension (WDE), adding HDMI support in the processes.

Look, ma: no USB, HDMI or DisplayPort cables

It sounds like the ideal wireless data technology. Support for high-speed networking combined with built-in compatibility with the existing de facto standard – which also handily allows it cope with its limitations – and it's able to operate as a wireless carrier for a variety of cable protocols.

It's WiGig's Protocol Adaption Layers (PALs) that allow it to operate as a wireless replacement for a variety of wires, from USB to DisplayPort and HDMI. Since it'll carry PCIe traffic too, it could even form the basis for wireless Thunderbolt. Range is not an issue here and neither is bandwidth. WiGig supports device-to-device connections, so there's no need to router cable-replacement traffic through a base-station.

So why, two years on from the releases of WiGig 1.0 don't we have it yet? Ali Sadri, an Intel boffin who happens to be the WGA's Chairman and President, admits the development of the hardware that will deliver the standard is "absolutely taking longer than it was originally thought".

Difficult birth

Getting an entirely new radio system to work is not easy - and that's before engineers then have to make sure it adheres to the formal specification and works with devices from other vendors. Much of the plugfest activity in the past year or so has centred on that kind of testing.

"This is all-new technology," says Sadri, "not an incremental update to an existing standard. Every piece of the specification needs testing. We've had to proceed slowly, step by step. WiGig chipsets are not simple; we couldn't have shipped them this year or last year."

The technology sports a new MAC, he says, designed to be "more TDMA-like" (Time Division Multiple Access) than Wi-Fi has been, a trick learned from the cellular and WiMax worlds, and with quality-of-service and low-power operation at the heart of it.

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