Why WiGig?

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Tim Higgins

I have had a couple of days to think about this week’s coming out of a second group whose stated purpose is to pull together a spec for wireless networking using the 60 GHz band, promote it and put together a compliance testing program.

My first thought is that this puts the final nail in the coffin of UltraWideBand—at least in the form of Wireless USB—as a commercially-viable short-range high-speed wireless networking solution. The Wireless USB Promoter Group can put as brave a face as they want on it. But WiGig is aiming to provide the same high speed replacement for Bluetooth, at least for bulk data transfer, as Wireless USB. And given the wider swath of bandwidth available in 60 GHz, they have a better shot at it.

Keep in mind, however, that the 1 Gbps target speed that is being bandied about is like the 300 Mbps of draft 802.11n, 480 Mbps of Wireless USB and, hell, even SATA’s 3 Gbps—numbers that you will never see in actual use. I have only occasionally seen > 100 Mbps TCP/IP throughput from draft 11n, with more typical numbers in the 60 to 80 Mbps range.

And neither Wireless USB, nor the competing "Cable Free" technology that it managed to kill off, ever provided more than around 16 Mbps of usable throughput (that’s 3% of the hyped 480 Mbps, if you’re keeping track). So, despite the claims of WiGig’s much lower overhead that I heard in pre-announcement briefings, let’s say that I’m more than somewhat skeptical of the claims of 1 Gbps application-level throughput that I heard.

Helping or Hurting?

The other main thought I have, and asked my WiGig briefers about, is whether there will be cooperation with the pre-existing 60 GHz consortium—WirelessHD—and the IEEE 802.11ad Task Group that has been working on defining the PHY and Mac layers for 60 GHz networking since the end of last year.

My briefers made all the right noises about having some WiGig members who are also in the 802.11ad TG and playing nicely with not only Wireless HD, but also any other users of the 60 GHz spectrum. (So much for 60 GHz being pristine airspace.)

But I think I have seen this movie before and suspect that there will more than a few elbows thrown between WiGig and WirelessHD as the story progresses. Rick Merritt seems to have done some homework on the inevitable competition between the two groups and has a good take.

My own thought is that WiGig was formed for the same reason that the EWC came into being (Enhanced Wireless Consortium&madsh;remember them?). MIMO technology leader Airgo had too much of a head start in the pre-802.11n days over the traditional Wi-Fi Chipmakers Atheros, Broadcom and Marvell and needed to be derailed from its path to market dominance. The EWC eventually succeeded, with Airgo’s dominance reduced (the company was eventually purchased—and technology seemingly buried—by Qualcomm) and unified spec development was eventually moved to the IEEE.

The same game seems afoot here, this time with WirelessHD’s SiBeam being the company that needs to be slowed down. Atheros and Marvell are once again lined up in opposition on the WiGig side. Intel, of course, has bets on both tables as a member of both consortiums. (Oddly, so does Broadcom, which is different from the pre draft 11n battle.) Intel long ago learned to be a fast follower vs. a leader in wireless networking, content with being primarily an embedded wireless supplier.

I hope that I’m wrong and that WirelessHD products take hold and grow for cabled-HDMI replacement in CE applications and WiGig succeeds where Wireless USB has not. But even as I wrote that sentence, I thought, nahhhhh… ain’t gonna happen.

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