Intel pushes industry to cut the cables

Intel pushes industry to cut the cables

Summary: WiFi is wonderful, but somehow we are still stuck with lots of cables. Now Intel and others are working to eliminate the rest and deliver true wireless computing.


Intel didn’t invent WiFi — 802.11b was approved four years before Centrino came along. But the wireless platform did much to bring about a world in which we can walk into a coffee shop or hotel and expect free wireless broadband. What it did not do, however, is get rid of all the cables. Now the industry is setting its sights on the remaining ones.

Two technologies, in particular, are poised to make this happen. The first, WiGig, can be used not only to stream video to TVs and monitors, but also to connect computing devices to wireless access points, docking stations and other peripherals. The second, wireless charging, could finally eliminate the need to carry a power cable everywhere.

Like WiFi, these aren’t new technologies. Dell has been offering a Latitude laptop and wireless dock using WiGig for some time, and there are many companies — arguably too many — competing to deliver wireless charging. What the industry needs is someone to push standards, drive down the cost, and make these technologies ubiquitous.

That’s what Intel is now trying to do. Last month at Computex, Intel demonstrated WiGig wireless docking and simultaneous wireless charging of a laptop, smartphone, headset and tablet with a pad placed under a tabletop. The company said that it would deliver reference designs for systems that use the technology in 2016 as part of a future Core processor family known as Skylake.

Based on the IEEE’s 802.11ad standard, WiGig trades range for speed. It operates in the 60GHz spectrum, compared with 2.4- and 5.0GHz for WiFi, which means it really works only at short distances and can’t easily penetrate walls. But it can transfer data at speeds of up to 7Gbps, compared to a maximum speed of a little more than 1Gbps for 802.11ac (though there are techniques to push it a bit further).

Like the competing WirelessHD, which is also based on 60GHz but does not meet 802.11ad specifications, WiGig can be used to stream video from a mobile device to a TV or monitor, replacing HDMI and DisplayPort cables. But WiGig can also be used for networking and wireless docking. The idea is that you place your laptop on your desk and it automatically connects with your monitor, keyboard and mouse, printer and other peripherals without cables.

Eventually networking companies will offer tri-band wireless routers that can automatically switch between the 2.4GHz, 5.0GHz and 60GHz bands to provide the best balance of range and throughput.

Wilocity was the first-mover here, teaming up with Qualcomm-Atheros to create the tri-band solutions (2.4- 5.0- and 60GHz) used in the Dell Wireless 1601, which is available in the Latitude 5000 and 7000 series, Precision mobile workstations and Wireless Dock D5000. Wilocity says it has shipped more than a million WiGig chips since Dell started offering the feature in early 2013.

At Mobile World Congress, Wilocity announced a new chip, the WiL 6500, designed for smartphones. Marvell is also working with Wilocity on tri-band solutions, and there are several competitors developing WiGig chips or intellectual property including Beam Networks, Blu Wireless, Broadcom, Nitero, Peraso and Tensorcom.

WirelessHD was first to market, and wireless transmitters and receivers are already available from DVDO, Sharp and ZyXel. Intel is also part of the WirelessHD Consortium, but the chipsets are developed by Silicon Image.

Earlier this year at CES, Silicon Image announced a WirelessHD chipset for smartphones. Most of the other members are consumer electronics companies including LG, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba. Despite the big names, WirelessHD hasn’t been broadly integrated into TVs, Blu-ray players or set-top boxes, and the more versatile WiGig seems to be gathering momentum.

The situation is less clear in wireless charging. There are two basic technologies: induction-based charging and resonance-based charging. And within these there are competing groups.

The Wireless Power Consortium’s Qi is an induction-based technology already used in a wide range of products including HTC, LG, Nokia and Samsung smartphones. Freescale, IDT, Texas Instruments and Toshiba supply the chips. Starbucks recently announced plans to install wireless charging pads in tables and counters using Powermat, a competing induction-based technology (Powermat is a joint venture of Procter & Gamble’s Duracell division and Powermat Technologies). Powermat is based on standards developed by the Power Matters Alliance (PMA), a group that includes AT&T, BlackBerry, HTC, Huawei, LG, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Samsung, TI and ZTE.

The competing resonance-based technology has been slower to market, but seems to have some technical advantages. First, devices don’t need to be placed in a precise position on the charging pad--you can change the orientation and distance and it will continue to charge. It also works from up to as much as 12 inches away from the pad, though the distance can be extended with repeaters. Second, it charges through materials such as wood and metal, which means chargers can be placed in furniture or PCs. Finally, a single resonance-based pad can charge multiple devices at once.

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Earlier this year WiTricity, an MIT spin-off that has developed a lot of the resonance technology, joined the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP), which is promoting the technology under the Rezence. Intel is backing the A4WP along with many other chipmakers such as Broadcom, Marvell, MediaTek, Qualcomm, Samsung and Texas Instruments. The group also includes a long list of device makers such as Dell, HTC, Lenovo, LG, Panasonic and Sony.

This mess has held back wireless charging, but the good news is that the industry finally seems to be taking steps to straighten it out. The PMA and A4WP are now working together on solutions that would support both induction and resonance charging standards. At Mobile World Congress earlier this year, MediaTek announced a chip that will support both as well.

For WiGig, Intel plans to make its own chips. The company said it will have silicon for both transmitters and receivers in production by the end of this year, and available in products in the first half of 2015. For wireless charging, Intel’s decision to push Rezence should help get resonance charging into the mainstream market, but it isn’t clear whether the company will make its own components or partner with existing players.

Intel has said only that it will contribute some of its own IP to expand the standard to support wireless charging of laptops (which requires at least 20 watts) and that Rezence will be part of a Skylake reference design by 2016. Either way if Intel can duplicate its success with Centrino, by the end of 2016 we should be much closer to true wireless computing.

Topics: Mobility, Laptops, Processors, Tablets, Wi-Fi

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  • Ethernet still seems to be more reliable than WiFi

    And it is definitely faster and much harder to hack. Intel can try to change all of our minds, but that's where things stand right now.
    John L. Ries
    • Definitely

      If I need it to work every time all time, I would never use wifi. The inductive charging is very wasteful for a little bit of convenience.
      Buster Friendly
      • No and yes

        I'm not as pessimistic about WiFi, but agree inductive charging is just too inefficient. I wonder how often credit card, etc. mag stripes are getting demagnetized by those things too.
        • Not really pessimism

          It's not pessimism but practice. Where I really notice the wifi failings is trying to run streamers off them like the couple roku boxes I have behind wall mount TVs. The streamers with hard wired connections are much more reliable.
          Buster Friendly
    • wireless spying and hacking ...

      This will be great you wont need to worry about installing antivirus/antimalware software because there wont be any that installs... it will all operate wirelessly :-)
      • wifi

        wiFi may always be hacked.
    • Not Intel. Mobile is changing the game.

      I agree with you that copper is better than RF especially in security, but what Intel is responding to is market demand which is driven by the mobile space (phones, tablets and laptops). There is also a market pressure from aesthetics. My wife hates cables. She is much happier now that we have just two wires going to our TV (power and a single HDMI). She will be even happier with one.

      Fortunately the security risk is mitigated somewhat by the range. It is easier to tap WiFi because of its higher power and sensitivity. But many of these RF technologies are very short range and are easily blocked by walls.
    • Agreed

      I have 802.11n at home and I get around 100KB/s transfer on it (I have seen it burst to 3MB/s, but it can't sustain it for more than a couple of seconds). The wired Ethernet can transfer the same data at 40MB/s (it is only a cheap NAS, so it reaches its limits before the cabling does). Likewise wireless streaming of Amazon Prime video stutters continuously, even in SD mode, yet on a wired connection can play back HD smoothly.

      I've tried different routers and I have managed to get the speed up to 100KB/s, the first 802.11n router in the house managed around 10KB/s!

      It is still quicker to unplug the iMac upstairs and bring it downstairs to the switch and plug it in to copy new photos onto it than it is to try and copy them over Wi-Fi. The last time I installed a new machine, it wanted around 5 days to sync over Wi-Fi with the NAS, plugging it into the switch had it synced within 10 minutes.
  • What Happened to Miracast?

    I guess Miracast was short-lived? Will WiGig replace it as the preferred choice for wireless displays or will WiGig distances be too short to replace Miracast that allows a tablet in your hands on the couch to comfortably stream to a big screen on the wall?
    • Miracast

      Miracast works fine, especially with decent senders and decent receivers. Won't allow you to go beyond HD tough, or multiple screens. WiGig can also be used in a way that's somewhat similar to Thunderbolt or USB3.1, although it's slower than either of those.
  • More Radiation

    We're already exposed to enough radiation, and the small bands the FCC has allotted to consumer wireless devices is already completely crowded. Wired is here, and it's here forever -- and it's not a problem either. It works and is better!

    More pipe dreams from Intel.
    • Yup

      That is what I thought.
      More emitters.
    • Agree

      RF radiation is cumulative and we are being swamped with it daily for more and more "wireless" devices.
  • spam in comments


    Before I logged in,I have been seeing some guy advertising "work from home" in the comments while scrolling along,sometimes one or more adds. And this has been happening daily. However, after I logged in,those adds disappeared from comments. Does anyone know what the heck is going on? Has anyone else seen these?
    • Hopefully...

      ...they were deleted, as spam should be.
      John L. Ries
  • Central Wiring beats wifi

    Wi fi has certainly been made better over the years, it is decent enough with heavy encryption to serve as either a backup or as a away from central location use when wired is otherwise unavailable.

    In my experience though, for security, reliability, consistent speed, and just overall satisfaction, RJ45 Ethernet gigabit ports using Cat-6 (and above) and central wiring layouts with smart switches in homes and smaller offices beat even the newer wi fi standards by far.

    There are homes that wifi simply refuses to work in, or work in well, the old but well built oversized master western style bungalow my mother has is a perfect example, early versions of wifi I could not get to work even across adjacent rooms, later versions just barely would work at certain points on the top and bottom floors even boosted.

    I had a client that needed separate wifi hotspots in their home on opposite sides to get coverage through the house, even boosters failed to help. They insisted wifi was the only way to go, well they did it, but it cost them. Shrigs, they could afford to do so, since they were a business.

    I myself have internet access with a gateway and have both wireless and wired ports, the wireless on it is completely deliberately disabled. instead I merely have it plugged into my central wiring unit, which gives equal access to all systems in the house, and makes disabling or upgrading easy, since it is literally 1 wire connecting it.

    Security wise, all the various encryption and password options are nice, but about the only way a wired network can be hacked into is physically splicing the line to the building, or hacking through the ISP. Not a car sitting across the street or a neighbor wanting free access. Not saying cannot be done mind you, but the level needed is higher.

    Finally, I find wired plans are generally cheaper. I'm currently only paying just over 1/6 for my house wide multi device internet as a relative of mine whom has multiple wi fi devices., I have unlimited access, that relative does not. With my current central wiring layout, in theory I can have with no additional equipment about 38 devices scattered around the house. I only have including network storage units and htpcs, 7 if I use them all at the same time, which I do not.
  • Death to wireless - long live Ethernet

    I have used both Wi-Fi and Ethernet. I am currently using a Cat-6 1Gbps Ethernet cable between my cable modem and my home network. There is no comparison, no competition whatsoever between Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet. Ethernet stomps on Wi-Fi by leaps and bounds. As long as Intel keep this niche wireless technology in the realm of mobile devices that's just fine. But if anyone thinks I would ever give up my Cat-6 cable for a little convenience your gonna see another bloody war erupt. Similar in nature to the one going on between Windows 7 and Windows 8 comparisons. Windows 8 sucks, touch is for dummies, and it ain't ever gonna happen on my PC.