WiGig networking in an office

Ultra-fast, short-range wireless nets are around the corner

Agencies running wireless networks could soon gain a lot of speed, at least for short-range transmissions.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has announced that its Standards Board has approved the “ad” amendment to the 802.11 wireless standard. 
The new wireless gigabit standard, also known as WiGig, which covers Very High Throughput in the 60-GHz Band, will allow transfer rates of up to 7 gigabits/sec, which is more than 20 times the throughput afforded by current 802.11n devices.  

Wireless networking in the 60-GHz band opens all sorts of doors. "By migrating up to the next ISM band (60 GHz),” said Bruce Kraemer, chair of the IEEE 802.11 Wireless LAN Working Group, “we break ground on new spectrum for IEEE 802.11, enable an order of magnitude improvement in performance and enable usages that have never before been possible with existing IEEE 802.11 — namely wireless docking and streaming video."

Using the 60 MHz band means significantly faster transfer times and higher bandwidths, but using radio frequencies that high has the innate problem of limited range because of signal propagation loss. One possibility explored during the standard’s development was to include in 802.11ad devices technologies such as “beamforming” to extend the range as far as possible.

However, some estimates still put the maximum range for 802.11ad at as little as 40 feet, and the signal  will still have a great deal of trouble going through walls. This means that the first applications will be in wireless docking stations, input devices and monitors. These are fine uses of the technology, but the wait for routers and other networking devices in that band might last a while.

The technology’s high speed and efficiency, however, could prove useful in crowded or mobile wireless settings, such as agency offices, mobile emergency-response or military command centers and some educational settings that require greater speed and fewer cables.

One of the unheralded benefits of 802.11ad is its lower power consumption as compared to its counterpart, 802.11ac (Very High Throughput on the 5-GHz Band). Even when transferring data at the same rate, an “ad” connection is projected to draw about one-sixth of the power. This can really make a difference for users whose desktops are made up entirely of wireless devices.

The amendment’s arrival clocked in at just over two years from first draft to board approval, which might be the fastest for any major amendment in the history of the standard. By contrast, 802.11n took six years, though admittedly it attracted an inordinate number of lawsuits.

The Wireless Gigabit Alliance, a consortium of technology companies that has been working with the IEEE and making official contributions to the 802.11ad amendment, said in a statement that the 7 gigabits/sec speed in the 60 GHz frequency band, “combined with advanced Protocol Adaption Layers, will mean its applications go beyond that of a straightforward access technology.”

The rapid adoption of this amendment should mean that we will see equipment using the 60-GHz band by the end of this year. Once devices are released and tested, users at public-sector agencies could see benefits of this technology soon afterward.

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