Monday, May 10, 2010

Wi-Fi standards - Wi-Gig | Messy standards fight looms for wireless video

May 10, 2010 7:24am by Chris Nuttall

Twenty-five years after a US regulatory decision enabled the development of Wi-Fi, a contest is developing over a new 60GHz standard for a next-generation multi-gigabit version of the technology.

The Wi-Fi Alliance entered the fray on Monday with a cooperation agreement with the Wireless Gigabit (WiGig) Alliance on specifications for the development of a Wi-Fi certification program in the 60 GHz frequency band. At the same time, the existing WirelessHD Consortium is announcing the availability of its 1.1 specification for 60GHz.

Both trail the WHDI (Wireless Home Digital Interface) consortium, which has already brought products to market that allow wireless beaming of high-definition content around the home at up to 3Gb/second.

Just to throw another consortium at you, the Open Spectrum Alliance, advocating the allocation of unlicensed spectrum for social and economic benefits, is celebrating the 25th anniversary on May 24 of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to allow unlicensed access to parts of the radio spectrum.

The opening up of 900MHz, 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz led to the creation of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 802.11 committee, which went on to create various flavours of Wi-Fi - including, a,b, g and the latest 802.11n.

Wi-Fi is now influencing 4G telecoms networks with the wider-area WiMAX technology and it seems another viable area of expansion for the Wi-Fi Alliance is to look at providing gigabit speeds for high-definition video in the home.

The FCC made that possible when it made available unlicensed spectrum from 57 to 64GHz around 10 years ago.

At 60GHz, much faster transmission speeds are possible, although the range can be much more limited - within a single room rather than the whole-house experience of 2.4 and 5GHz.

SiBeam, a Silicon Valley company, seized on 60GHz as a way of pumping high-definition video between consumer electronics devices in a room and built support with CE manufacturers when it formed the WirelessHD Consortium in 2006.

It claims to have the de facto standard for wireless hi-def with support from more than 45 companies. The 1.1 specification defines common 3D formats and has support for 4K - resolution four times that of 1080p. ( The WiGig Alliance also announced its own specification on Monday, claiming it was “the industry’s first comprehensive multi-gigabit wireless specification”)

WirelessHD certainly seized the initiative from UltraWideBand (UWB), a technology which has failed to catch on - a standard was slow to be agreed and performance, regulatory and interference issues arose.

But, a year ago, the WiGig Alliance was launched, focusing on 60GHz and appearing to take up where UWB left off. Its new agreement with the Wi-Fi Alliance seems to make sense, with both sharing members such as Broadcom, Intel and Atheros.

Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance, told me there was no contact at present with the WirelessHD Consortium and, while the IEEE was looking at a 60GHz standard, it was trailing the work of the WiGig Alliance.

“So, how it all fits together remains to be seen, but we now have a leg-up in terms of having significant technology input [from the WiGig Alliance]. How will it all shake out? The protocols today are fairly different, but what remains to be seen is what gets broadly adopted.”

Nevertheless, it takes typically two years for a Wi-Fi certification programme to evolve, she added.

John Marshall, chairman of the WirelessHD consortium, says Panasonic, LG, Sony, Toshiba and Vizio have already announced products using its technology, which he says is more suited to transmitting video.

“Wi-Fi is about a bunch of devices on a network and it means there are multiple nodes and contention issues for who gets access. With WirelessHD, there’s no such thing - you have a dedicated link for watching entertainment and it’s point-to-point.”

Meanwhile, SiBeam appears to be hedging its bets. In another announcement on a manic Monday for wireless HD, it said it would release a dual-mode WirelessHD/WiGig reference design kit in June.

WHDI’s technology operates in the 5GHz band and can cover a whole house while offering gigabit speeds. It has 25 companies in its consortium, including LG, Sony, Hitachi, Sharp, Mitsubishi and JVC, with the WHDI logo due to show up on products later this year.

“We are multi-room and support mobile devices and that sets us apart,” says Joe Kilmer, WHDI spokesman . He quotes a recent analyst report as giving WHDI 68 per cent of the total addressable market.

Personally, while these new technologies sound exciting,as does any future without wires, I will be sticking to HDMI and ethernet cables for the foreseeable future wherever possible. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi both have frustrating connectivity issues in practice even now, while these new technologies need to sort out standards,stability and interoperability before they can become an automatic choice for consumers.

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