WiGig is not WiFi

Summary:While a lot of attention is being paid here to consumer markets like moving audio and video without wires, the real key to WiGig may be the business market. Especially hospitals.

The endorsement of WiGig by the WiFi Alliance does not mean your Internet connections will become faster or more competitive.

WiGig is something completely different. It's a fast, short-hauil service at 60 GHz that is meant to replace local area networks.

Its competitor in the standards race makes this very clear. The Wireless HD Consortium also wants to see faster wireless LAN links, specifically to move HD video around consumer homes.

The endorsement of the WiGig proposal by the WiFi Alliance could give it traction with manufacturers and governments, who must approve use of the frequency spectrum. But its importance can be easily overstated.

Current WiFi systems use two sets of frequency bands, one centered around 2.4-2.6 GHz and the other centered at around56.4-5.7 GHz. This has enabled speeds up to 100 MBps through the 802.11n standard, which is slowly replacing the 50 Mbps 802.11g in new gear.

But because 60 GHz is a much higher frequency band than current WiFi it attenuates quickly -- the distance a signal can travel will be very low unless the power of the wave is pushed higher. Sure, the spectrum field is wider, enabling speeds up to 7 GBytes. But the bits are not traveling far at all.

WiGig tries to get around this problem with a technology called beamforming. Basically you'll need a directional antenna to send a signal further than 10 meters (40 feet). When directional antennas were used for WiFi a decade ago (even simple things like empty Pringle cans) it became possible to send signals many miles. Forget about seeing miles and miles with WiGig.

This means your local coffee shop will pay no attention to WiGig. The whole aim of a coffee shop network is to move data between clients and a wired connection which goes on to the main Internet. A shorter-range 7 Gbps connection between a laptop and a router doesn't make for faster browsing, just (potentially) more contention.

While a lot of attention is being paid here to consumer markets like moving audio and video without wires, the real key to WiGig may be the business market. Especially hospitals.

Hospitals are massive users with WiFi. A new industry has emerged to manage hospital WiFi networks, freeing doctors from phones and turning those phones into multimedia sets with electronic medical records and the latest tests.

WiGig could allow the heaviest loads to be switched on the shortest distances. An MRI test set could be sent to a nearby PC for processing, and that PC in turn could just send results via WiFi to a doctor's set in a patient's room.

But because we are talking about very high frequencies, and very short wavelengths, we're also talking about very short distances with WiGig. It's not "WiFi on steroids." It's a short-haul WiFi adjunct.

Topics: Mobility, Networking, Wi-Fi

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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