Inside the ultra-high-speed wireless home wars

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The clear winner of the home networking wars of the past few years has undoubtedly been Wi-Fi. The sheer number of Wi-Fi embedded devices, from laptops to smartphones, is increasingly being joined by the pack of new consumer electronics device categories with Wi-Fi, such as smart TVs and OTT set tops, which means the technology isn’t going anywhere soon. But it’s not alone, either.

The Wi-Fi industry has done a good job of evolving, with improvements in speed, range and quality of service. But in-home distribution of rich-media content, such as uncompressed HD video, is growing, and that content would stretch the limits of what Wi-Fi can do. In some cases, it would be impossible for existing Wi-Fi technologies, such as 802.11n, to handle, even when using dual-band MIMO solutions.

The good news is that there are a bevy of emerging technologies in various states of evolution. Ultra-high-speed local wire-replacement technologies such as WiGig would enable new use cases that are impossible today with Wi-Fi. Potentially, these new technologies could even replace the current generation of Wi-Fi based on 802.11n.

With this primer in mind, let’s break down each technology and its prospects.

chart

As can be seen in the table above, each of the new generation of high-speed wireless technologies can be grouped into two categories: those that target existing 5 GHz unlicensed bands (where 802.11n currently operates, in addition to the 2.4GHz band) and those that are over the 60GHz unlicensed spectrum band (which has become a center of activity for new technologies due to the relative lack of “clutter” as compared to existing Wi-Fi traffic). The major shortcoming of 60GHz, however, is that signal propagation falls off at a much faster rate when compared to 5GHz.

WirelessHD

While WirelessHD was the first 60GHz technology targeted at in-home high-speed wireless video distribution, the market hasn’t really warmed to the technology. As a result of lackluster sales, SiBeam, the technology behind WirelessHD, sold to HDMI chipset specialist Silicon Image for $25 million.

Prospects for success: not good

Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI)

WHDI is the oldest of the ultra-high-speed wireless home technologies, and because of this head start it has found moderate success in the market. Amimon’s approach of using the 5GHz band was also smart, as it is currently the only whole-home ultra high-speed wireless technology, at least until 802.11ac solutions hit the market (which should happen in 2012).

Prospects for success: okay.  There is concern about long-term threat from 802.11ac.

WiGig/802.11ad

WiGig is the hot new high-speed wireless technology on the block and has bright prospects ahead, thanks to backing by major players such as Intel, Broadcom, Marvell, Microsoft and Qualcomm (Atheros). With WirelessHD faltering a bit because of SiBeam’s problems, and no clear winner for high-speed in the 60GHz band, WiGig has a huge opportunity to become the standard technology in this space. Recent news that Qualcomm released a tri-band chip supporting WiGig and standard Wi-Fi in both 2.4 and 5GHz shows that the big players in this space see WiGig as the technology to beat for 60GHz in the home.

Prospects for success: very good

802.11ac (next-gen Wi-Fi)

While 802.11n technology is still growing at a pretty good clip, the 802.11 working group is preparing the next-generation standard for ultra-high-speed whole-home wireless networking. Given that 802.11ac will fill a serious need of HD video distribution and be backwards compatible with the enormous installed base of Wi-Fi, 802.11ac solutions will be a slam dunk for success when it makes it to market, which is anticipated in 2012.

Prospects for success: very good

Question of the week

Which emerging technology could best replace Wi-Fi?

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