WiFi goes Gig

The WiFi Alliance has revealed the next-generation of the standard WLAN technology platform, unoriginally labelled WiGig, which could be the catalyst for the death of messy, unattractive and inconvenient UTP cabling – at least in the home.

As useful as WiFi technology is in getting the more remote areas of a fairly large home connected to the home network, more widespread adoption of the standard has run into problems primarily due to throughput performance.

Even the latest WLAN specification, 802.11n, can only manage theoretical maximum throughputs of 150M/s, and that with some proprietary optimisations thrown in which limit the vendor-agnostic nature of the network.

And remember, that’s a theoretical peak. In practice, it’s very unlikely that you’ll ever get that throughput, unless your device happens to sit a foot away from your WLAN AP – and then what’s the point of it being wireless, exactly? No, with GbE (Gigabit Ethernet) NICs now being standard fare on desktop and notebook solutions, if you need the throughput to stream say an HD video, a cable remains the best way to go.

But, perhaps, not for long. Although I do believe that the clever chaps at the WiFi Alliance are seriously missing a trick with this WiGig stuff, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

A theoretical maximum throughput of 7Gbps will be more than sufficient headroom for a data-heavy stream of this nature. Even if real-world speeds, like existing WiFi standards, don’t ever actually hit this theoretical peak, performance should at least be on a par with a wired GbE setup installation.

And the technology ought to be available in the next two years say the WiFi Alliance. If 802.11n is anything to go by however, it may be even sooner than that, as vendors jumped the gun by a long way in rolling out this technology to its customers, releasing “Draft spec” 802.11n hardware long before the standard was ever ratified by the Alliance.

However, and this is a rather big however, I wouldn’t say that it’s time to toss all that comparatively delicate UTP running like spaghetti through your connected home just yet.

That’s because while WiGig piles on the access speed, it apparently hampers what is really WiFi’s biggest strength. Signal range, for maximum coverage of your connectivity-dispersion efforts.

Unlike technologies like WiMAX which is more of a WAN or at least MAN-oriented solution focussed on delivering both higher speeds and greater signal range than ever before, WiGig will boast a very limited range. A WiGig AP will only really be useable to connect devices at most a room away, say the WiFi Alliance. And that, surely, brings UTP right back into play, to connect the multitude of APs you’ll need in a home network installation back to the main LAN backbone.

I recall, when WiFi was first introduced, I was the editor of the niche publication CableTalk. Naturally, the suppliers of UTP that I had contact with every day, I expected, were a bit concerned when WiFi began first making waves.

After all this was a technology which could end up replacing the absolute basis of their businesses.

And yet they weren’t.

Ever since WiFi technology has fulfilled, as predicted, a very specific niche purpose. It’s able to provide connectivity in locations it could otherwise be difficult to get cabling to, and in the SMB networking space, which the major cabling players weren’t particularly interested in servicing in the first place.

WiGig, with an even shorter signal range, will continue to make sure that this topology – UTP to the backbone, WLAN to distribute the signal, will still be with us for quite some time.

Of course it is a bit of a tricky situation, as naturally we do need higher performance on the WLAN as well as increased range. In fact, perhaps WiGig is more of a competitor on short distance backhaul implementations. And the home, of course, than I’m giving it credit for. We’ll only know once we can measure the real speeds and feeds, as it were.

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WiFi goes Gig