Wireless technology is becoming a staple in the modern work environment.
Although the day that all offices become reliant on Wi-Fi for their primary connections is some way off, its presence is growing and will often run alongside wired connections, if not instead of them, in the enterprise of today.
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But Wi-Fi does not always get a good press. Critics have often questioned its security and the ability of cyber trespassers to sneak onto networks through poorly protected Wi-Fi access points.
It is also the questionable reliability of the technology that has left businesses who need that guaranteed connection shying away from adoption.
New standards are coming out for Wi-Fi regularly though, with the next – 802.11ac – expected later this year and focusing on enabling 1Gbps connectivity on the 5GHz frequency, reducing to around 500Mbps if forced onto higher spectrum bands. But a group of networking specialists has broken away from the traditional Wi-Fi way and is seeking to form its own rival standard, which it believes will bring better performance and change the reputation of the unreliable wireless connection.
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WiGig works at a much higher frequency than the traditional 2.4GHz, 3.6GHz and 5GHz of Wi-Fi and other mobile signals such as 3G or 4G. The idea is that running on the 60GHz band, it will be able to avoid all the interference of these lower band technologies and improve performance to reach throughput as much as 5Gbps, if not higher. Ali Sadri is the president and chairman of the board for the WiGig Alliance, which formed in 2009 to start work on this technology.
“Back in 2009, we began by looking at the applications that the existing technology was not suitable for,” he tells Computer Weekly. “For example, the existing wireless technology or Wi-Fi is widely used for consumer and internet applications. This is expanding into new areas such as streaming videos, but we needed to go beyond this.”
There is no doubt that consumers and businesses alike are always looking for extra bandwidth with the current crop of applications, let alone for the new ones that haven’t even been thought of yet.
But aside from the performance, there is another more practical element that drove the alliance to create WiGig.
“If you look at the form factors of devices, the Ultrabooks, tablets, mobiles, they are getting very small,” says Sadri. “If you look at the newest iPhone, they were struggling with wanting to reduce the size and had to bring out a new connector just to do so.
“We have already moved to much smaller SIM cards – from mini to micro – and who knows what is going to be next? We need to find technology that replaces all the cables we use and move away from the USBs and HDMIs,” he adds. The idea with WiGig, as Sadri demonstrated at Intel’s Developer Forum back in September, is that as well as working as an access point, it can work as a hub to connect all your devices and enable peer-to-peer sharing.
“Take an Ultrabook or a tablet,” he explains. “You are bringing these devices into your office, but you want to have a much bigger display; you want a keyboard, an external hard drive and a connection to the internet at the same time. That by itself is a big problem because either you don’t have a connector anymore or the connectors are very limited.
“We think that WiGig is the best technology. Simply putting tablets or Ultrabooks on the desk or close to the hub automatically gets you connected to all the peripherals around it, with high definition and without cables.”
And this is just for one individual at home. Imagine if an office of tens or hundreds could also do this. The lack of cables and the freedom to move around with devices would be a selling point anyway, but add to this the ability to peer-to-peer share work with colleagues without having to seek out a cloud system or send across huge file attachments; a lot of businesses might get excited, Sadri says.
“There is no other technology except WiGig that allows you to coexist with another device so closely because of the 60GHz technology built into the WiGig points.”
The higher the frequency band, the less distance it travels, so if you imagine that 1GHz equals one billion waves per second, it is clear 60GHz is way up the scale. This means you could have all of one person’s devices working on one desk without interfering with a colleague’s set up next to them.
So what about that constant concern around security with wireless connections? Sadri says WiGig includes all the necessary measures already available in Wi-Fi connections built in as part of the protocol. This means security keys would need to be exchanged between workers to share any connections.
WiGig equipment will also be backwards compatible with Wi-Fi technologies, so current security policies put in place by a business can be replicated on top of the new access points.
“From a networking and security aspect, you will have the same experience as if you were connected to the Wi-Fi, but at a much higher throughput,” he adds. But there is an extra level of security the alliance has included specifically for those content exchanges between employees.
“When you exchange content, such as video for example, there is another requirement the content owners have and that is the signal level security of the high definition content called HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection),” Sadri says. This protocol protects either audio or video content as it travels between devices. After checking the receiver is authorised to get the file, it sends an encrypted version that only another HDCP licence holder can read, meaning if anyone manages to break into the transfer, they cannot playback the file.
“We also provide HDCP encryption on top of the existing wireless set up to transmit the video content,” says Sadri. “So we have two levels of security – at the data level and the content level.” So if the technology is superior and the security is a step up, is the cost going to be an issue for businesses already struggling with tight budgets? Sadri claims the pricing will show little difference to the 802.11n access points or chipsets on the market now.
“This is a physical wireless or Wi-Fi cost reference,” he says. “How much would you pay for an access point that you would put in your office or at home? This is just another version of the much faster Wi-Fi you can consume. “From a cost point of view, I presume the cost is not any higher than the current Wi-Fi systems in operation. The cost is similar to the Wi-Fi chipset so it shouldn’t potentially be a stalling point.”
It seems the alliance has ticked the boxes of performance, security and cost, but regardless of how impressive the technology may sound, the only way a new wireless standard will take off is if you have the partners willing to manufacture products featuring the chipset and network companies building compatible technology.
One look at the board member list puts doubts to one side. The big chip makers like Intel, AMD and Qualcomm are all signed up, networking giants like Cisco and Huawei are involved and manufacturers like Samsung, Toshiba and Panasonic are all ready to build new products with WiGig at the heart of their connectivity.
The enterprise needs an assured wireless network as technology continues to move from an add-on to the way an office connects
Rob Bamforth, Quocirca
“The pot is pretty full with the systems integrators, chipset manufacturers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that are going to build products based on the chipsets that we are going to develop,” says Sadri. “But there are many partners working within the ecosystem too, with one company building the chipset, another building the module and another company marketing it. We are always looking to expand though.”
So who is sold on the new standard? Rob Bamforth, principal analyst at Quocirca, said suppliers have been mentioning WiGig in discussion on upcoming products, definitely a sign of some of this momentum Sadri has been talking about.
“WiGig is going to benefit the enterprise,” he tells Computer Weekly. “The demands of performance on a network when it comes to pure throughput are continuously rising and the enterprise is more aware of pushing networks harder with the shift towards different user models and an increase in the post-PC era of tablets and smartphones replacing traditional laptops.
“They need an assured wireless network as technology continues to move from an add-on to the way an office connects.”
WiGig is currently going through its various certification programmes, which Sadri believes will finish by the end of 2013. However, he also claimed the clamour in Asia Pacific to launch a product featuring the new capability means we are likely to see something on the market before the year is out.
“A lot of manufacturers want to be the first to ship the product and then when the certification launch happens, they will say they are certifiable,” he says. “The next version of Wi-Fi claims to offer 1Gbps and they are going to be integrated in access points in early 2013, so naturally manufacturers such as Cisco or other infrastructure providers are going to be integrating WiGig as part of their offering as well in 2014. “And that is where the vision happens. Every access point, every hotspot, you are going to start seeing them based on WiGig too.”