A few years ago, 802.11ad Wi-Fi technology – also known as WiGig – seemed like it was about to have a moment. The technology promised to deliver multi-gigabit speeds through the use of 60GHz airwaves. The standard was settled. But then, not much happened. Adoption in devices was limited.
Part of the problem is the 60GHz spectrum WiGig utilises means the technology can’t penetrate walls like traditional Wi-Fi and only works over short distances within a room. WiGig made it into a few laptops and routers, but otherwise kind of fell by the wayside as attention turned to 5G among mobile operators and 802.11ax among their wireline counterparts.
So, is WiGig dead? It depends who you ask.
Earlier this month Intel announced it was scrapping production of many of its WiGig products by the year-end. But Qualcomm recently heralded smartphone-maker Asus’ use of its Snapdragon platform and 802.11ad technology to deliver both gigabit LTE and gigabit Wi-Fi capabilities in its ZenFone 4 Pro.
According to Mark Grodzinsky, senior director of product management at Qualcomm Technologies, the debut of the Asus phone marks “a milestone in the industry adoption of 802.11ad.” Grodzinsky told Mobile World Live (MWL) there is “a lot” of interest from operators in using 802.11ad’s 60GHz operation to free up crowded public Wi-Fi networks running on 2.4GHz and 5GHz airwaves.
Grodzinsky added Qualcomm and other industry partners are also pushing ahead to finalise the 802.11ay standard, which he said will further improve speed and coverage.
“There are already commercial [802.]11ad router/APs [access points], laptop, wireless dock and a gaming PC motherboard available today. Asus adds to this growing ecosystem,” Grodzinsky said. “We expect the momentum to continue with many more launches in the coming months and years.”
Technology without a cause
However, WiGig may be a bit ahead of its time. Recon Analytics founder Roger Entner told MWL the technology amounts to a solution which is still looking for a problem.
Entner said WiGig is neither useful to carriers for Wi-Fi offload due to its propagation limits, nor are its multi-gigabit capabilities really useful to consumers who already have their needs met by existing connections.
“There’s no incentive to upgrade. The good and bad with 60GHz is a piece of paper blocks it. For most consumers in their homes, they want to blast their Wi-Fi so that it goes from room to room. Now if you’re in a much more corporate or secure location you might want to have different Wi-Fi hotspots in every room, but for most people it’s overkill.”
Entner said video is currently the biggest bandwidth hog, but even in the case of virtual or augmented reality use cases an existing 100Mb/s connection can already serve up to 20 HD clients. However, he noted things might change with the rise of 4K video, because “use cases always catch up with capacity.”
From a device perspective, Strategy Analytics director of Tablet and Touchscreen Strategies Eric Smith agreed it’s been “a rough go” for WiGig so far.
“Even though it promises so much, there have been few designs which actually incorporate it. The focus right now seems to be in getting 802.11ac in more devices and then bumping up LTE speeds,” he told MWL.
Andrew Zignani, a senior analyst at ABI Research, agreed developing an ecosystem for WiGig was an issue.
“One of the major challenges that Wi-Fi faces by moving to the 60GHz band is the lack of an existing device ecosystem on which to build. There is a very limited amount of products on the market currently using 802.11ad, so for many OEMs, there is not yet a compelling enough use case to justify the additional costs and complexities in adopting the standard,” Zignani explained.
“A smartphone OEM is unlikely to integrate WiGig if only a very limited amount of devices exists to which it can connect. Conversely, without many WiGig-enabled portable devices to connect to, TV, display, and other device manufacturers may also be hesitant to adopt the standard.”
While it’s possible WiGig could be subsumed into 802.11ax or 802.11ay, Smith said it “shouldn’t be the last we see” of the technology as 5G approaches.
Zignani agreed. While he said it will be “interesting” to see how much traction 802.11ad devices and use cases like VR gain in the coming months, he also pointed to another possibility: the use of WiGig for backhaul.
“Some WiGig chipset vendors such as Peraso and Broadcom are beginning to promote 60GHz for backhaul applications. Both have 60GHz mesh solutions to help eliminate need for fibre deployments in areas where infrastructure is poor,” Zignani said.
“This offers less costly deployment for last mile connectivity which can provide multi-gigabit access. We expect other chipset suppliers to target this market in the future, however, 802.11ay is likely to expand upon this with much faster throughput, so may see more success than 802.11ad.”
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.