Introduction

This blog has been conceived, researched and written in order to attain a final grade in the course “Regulations and Standards for Wireless Communications (0EL70)”. As a student of Dr. J. M. Smits, I was instructed to choose a standard for wireless communications and analyze it from the perspective of the lectures he gave, answering several question in the process, such as what kind of standard it is, whether it is mandatory or not, the institutional approach of the standards organization in charge of it, etc. After discussing these questions, the purpose is then to argue why (or why not) the standard will be a success.

I have decided to write about the IEEE 802.11ad standard, also known as WiGig. This is an exciting topic for me because I have already studied 802.11 networks extensively before in my education. This new extension of the standard is an important and substantial one, because it entails significant changes to the underlying technology, while regular extensions tend to introduce minor or more protocol oriented changes. Also of interest to me is the fact that there has been a sort of “standards war” for the kind of technology that WiGig embodies. As products compliant with IEEE 802.11ad are starting to become available and enter the market, this is a very relevant moment to judge how the standard fares compared to its competitors.

The content of what normally would be different chapters or sections of an essay is herein distributed as entries to the blog. Nevertheless, I worked on all entries concurrently, so it is possible and more convenient for me to provide a final entry with a single, universal list of references for those interested in the sources I have used when writing them, instead of having a list of used references at the end of each entry.

I hope that this blog is of use to anyone who might come across it.

The Need for Speed: Motivation for the development of wireless standards in the 60 GHz band

As the access to wireless communications becomes ever more widespread with the use of devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones, the amount of information that is generated, exchanged and stored increases at an astounding rate. The infrastructure of the internet needs to grow to keep up and increase the traffic capacity, thus enabling better services and applications, which in turn result in an increased demand for traffic capacity. This insatiable need for a boost in capacity to foster innovation could be seen as a vicious cycle [1], but I like to think of it as a virtuous cycle, rather. It is thanks to it that the market has seen the arrival of technologies such as the IEEE 802.11 family of standards, 3G, 4G, etc.

To keep up with the ever increasing needs of the users, the capacity of wireless communications has improved in recent decades at a rate even faster than for wirelines, and it looks like this trend will continue for a while [2]. This goes in accordance with Edholm’s Law, which states that the 3 telecommunication categories (wireless, nomadic and wireline) increase with similar exponential curves. Wirelines had a head start in history, so it is natural that wireless is still lagging behind, but as seen in Figure 1, when the data rates are plotted logarithmically against time, straight lines fit the results. An extrapolation would indicate that in the future, the nomadic and wireless technologies will converge with the data rate of wirelines, and eventually leave it behind, which could well signify the end of wirelines [3].

Figure 1. Edholm’s Law [3]

Figure 1. Edholm’s Law [3]

More users that use increasingly complex applications pose demands that are not trivially solved.  One of the most important amendments made to the IEEE 802.11 standard was IEEE 802.11n, which implemented the use of antenna arrays to take advantage of the multipath signals and used wider channels in order to provide more speed. Applications such as those shown in Figure 2, like streaming of high definition (HD) video, computer display streaming, data transfers and networking and wireless bus are already reaching beyond the capabilities of IEEE 802.11n.

To achieve the data rates needed, it became evident that the fundamental limitation of current technologies (narrow bandwidth) had to be overcome, which implied increased spectral resources were required. So began the development of a new standard in the 60 GHz that could meet the needs of the applications mentioned in Figure 2  [1] [2].

 

Figure 2. WiGig Key Applications [4]

Figure 2. WiGig Key Applications [4]

The most prominent use for the technology would be the replacement of Wired Digital Interface (WDI) cables (e.g. HDMI, DisplayPort, USB, etc.). The approximate maximum data rates supported for some WDIs is shown in Figure 3, and it shows that any wireless technology that strives to replace these WDIs has to provide data rates up to tens of Gigabits per second [1].

 

Figure 3. Evolution of some prominent WDIs [1]

Figure 3. Evolution of some prominent WDIs [1]

The need for new technology that meets the present requirements by working with extended bandwidth to accomplish higher data rates has been established, and the industry is well motivated to pursue the use of 60 GHz communications [5] [4].

 

The 60 GHz Band

A consensus has been reached that in order to achieve wireless communication systems at rates of tens of Gigabits per second (Gbps), the use of higher frequencies and channels of larger bandwidth is a necessity, and the 60 GHz is the starting point [1].

The use of the frequency spectrum is a very complicated matter, because every country has the right to regulate and license it as it sees fit. Traditional Wi-Fi systems work around the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz bands, but the remaining unlicensed portions of the spectrum below 6 GHz are practically non-existent. The 60 GHz band, on the other hand, has more bandwidth available than all the lower unlicensed bands combined. Up until recent years, the 60 GHz band went largely unused due to the high oxygen absorption that signals in this band experiment, and lack of low cost RF technology [6]. Figure 4 shows the worldwide availability of this band, and it can be appreciated that it ranges from 3 to 9 GHz wide. To realize how impressive this is, it should be noted that the 5 GHz unlicensed band has around 500 MHz of usable bandwidth, while the 2.4 GHz band has less than 85 MHz in most regions [1] [4].

Figure 4. Worldwide spectrum availability at the 60 GHz band [4]

Figure 4. Worldwide spectrum availability at the 60 GHz band [4]

But having access to this much wider bandwidth does not come without challenges, and any new technology also has to be able to exploit the increased resources at a low cost.

The Friis equation is used to calculate the path loss from transmitter to receiver:

friis

where Pr is the received power, Pt is the transmitted power,  Gt is the transmitter antenna gain,  Gr is the receiver antenna gain,  λ is the wavelength, and R is the range from transmitter to receiver.  Considering that the received power is affected proportionally by the square of the wavelength, and that a signal around 60 GHz has a substantially smaller wavelength than a signal around 2.4 GHz, it becomes obvious that the power requirements are much more stringent for the newer technology (there is a loss of about 21 to 28 dB relative to the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands).

To make matters worse, the total noise from the wider band is much higher. Therefore it has been calculated that in general, 60 GHz systems will operate at 10 dB higher received power than IEEE 802.11n systems [4]. Even with this measure, 60 GHz systems will be intended for short range applications, which actually suits well to the interests of many entertainment producing companies. As mentioned in the previous post, the most prominent use of this technology will be the replacement of Wired Digital Interfaces (WDIs), and they are more than often used to stream copyrighted multimedia. The short range nature of 60 GHz systems puts at ease any worry of enabling copyright infringement, and more importantly, it decreases the amount of interference caused to other devices.

The more stringent power demands and increased aggregate noise make it harder to achieve low cost solutions, but on the other hand, technologies at the 60 GHz band have an advantage over those at 2.4 and 5 GHz: unlike the latter, the 60 GHz unlicensed band is more less the same all around the world, so that the manufacturers do not have to redesign transmitter and receiver antennas separately for each country with different regulations and differently located unlicensed bands, and this lowers the cost of production considerably [5].

Even when 60 GHz systems use higher transmit power than IEEE 802.11n systems, and the range of operation is restricted to smaller ranges, the requirement arises for high gain directional antennae to compensate for the much larger path loss. Again, the 60 GHz band proves to be an excellent choice when stopping to consider that for a given antenna aperture , the gain  scales inversely with the square of the wavelength, so for a perfectly efficient antenna system [1] [4]:

gain

This makes the production of small antennae for the 60 GHz band feasible.

A unique feature of any standard in the 60 GHz band is the absolute need for a Beamforming (BF) protocol. Older systems used omnidirectional antennae, but we have just argued for the use of high-gain antennae, which produce beams of much narrower width (i.e., with much more directivity). A BF protocol would automatically point the antennae so that they can find each other to coordinate operation and optimize antenna settings in an efficient, interoperable manner, and this helps to achieve the necessary link budget [1] [4].

The 60 GHz radio propagation channel has been studied for more than two decades, but the research and development of beamforming and beamsteering algorithms are much more recent. Channel models to test their performance are still being investigated, along with statistical shadowing models [7].

Standards War

Usually, the development of a new standard (or amendment of a standard) begins by identifying a specific application-niche. Competing standards often have significant overlap in their capabilities, and most technologies compete for spectrum space. Each of the standards discussed in this post has its own distinctive features (like key application, compatibility issues, maximum data rate, supporting company, etc.), but what they have in common is their goal to enable Gigabit per second and higher communications over distances of up to 10 meters [5].

Depending on what moment in time you examine (the history of these standards is a bit complicated), there have been four or five major players in the field of standardization of systems in the 60 GHz band, either concentrated on Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs) or Wireless Local Personal Networks (WPANs).

IEEE 802.15.3c

The Task Group 3c (TG3c) of the IEEE 802.15.3 was one of the pioneers in considering the 60 GHz band. As the official website of the Task Group puts it [8]:

The IEEE 802.15.3 Task Group 3c (TG3c) was formed in March 2005. TG3c developed a millimeter-wave-based alternative physical layer (PHY) for the existing 802.15.3 Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN) Standard 802.15.3-2003. This mmWave WPAN operates in the new and clear band including 57-64 GHz unlicensed band defined by FCC 47 CFR 15.255. In addition, the millimeter-wave WPAN supports high data rate at least 1 Gbps applications such as high speed internet access, streaming content download (video on demand, home theater, etc.). Very high data rates in excess of 2 Gbps in option is provided for simultaneous time dependent applications such as real time multiple HDTV video stream and wireless data bus for cable replacement.

They call it a “millimeter-wave-based alternative PHY” because the wavelength of signals with a frequency of 60 GHz is in the order of millimeters. The standard IEEE 802.15.3c-2009 was published in September 2009.

Although allegedly there were initially some disputes when news of IEEE 802.11ad arose, they were quickly resolved when it became evident that they pursued different goals and were not a threat to each other. IEEE 802.15.3 has no compatibility with the IEEE 802.11 family of standards (Wi-Fi), and is exclusively a WPAN standard. Unlike the rest of the standards herein discussed, it does not seek to replace Wired Digital Interfaces (WDIs), so whatever success 802.15.3c has achieved is part of a different discussion. After a plenary session in Atlanta on November 2009, the task group was placed into hibernation, and it remains so [8].

WirelessHD

WirelessHD (WiHD) was the first industrial consortium to develop a specification to transmit an uncompressed HDMI signal over a 60 GHz radio link [9], and their specification was available for adoption since January 2008. Originally, WiHD was conceived as an effort to develop a high speed option for the IEEE 802.15.3c standard [10]. As stated in FAQs section of the official website of the consortium [11], it was “formed to develop a wireless HD digital interface in order to simplify HD audio and video (“A/V”) connectivity and content portability for consumers”. The leaders (or as they call themselves, Promoters) of the consortium are LG, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Silicon Image, Sony, and Toshiba, with many more companies as adopters of the standard.

Figure 5. WirelessHD logo

Figure 5. WirelessHD logo

The standard was developed from the ground up with the transmission of HD video and audio as its primary goal, without using a preexisting technology such as Wi-Fi that would not be optimized for these applications [10]. What is more, WirelessHD, just like 802.15.3c is not compatible with Wi-Fi.

Some highlights of the standard are [11]:

  • Support for high data rates up to 10 – 28 Gbps, sufficient to transmit lossless HD video, multichannel audio, and data simultaneously.
  • 2 channels of 192 KHz 2 channel LPCM.
  • 5.1 channels of 24-bit 96 KHz multi-channel LPCM audio.
  • 13.1 channels of 24-bit 192 KHz compressed Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD audio.

The promise to would-be consumers is to get rid of bulky and uncomfortable cables (like HDMI cables) by providing them with seamless, wireless connectivity between digital source devices such as Blu-ray players, portable games, digital cameras, digital A/V players, personal computers (PCs and notebook PCs), portable media players and digital video recorders, and their HDTVs or other display devices, allowing users to quickly and easily share content between devices without the confusion of cables over distances of up to 10 meters (with no line-of-sight restrictions) [11].

ECMA-387

Ecma International (which originally stood for European Computer Manufacturers Association) is “an industry association founded in 1961, dedicated to the standardization of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Consumer Electronics (CE)” [12]. It is an international, private (membership-based), non-profit standards organization, and its publications can be freely copied by all interested parties without copyright restrictions. Ecma International takes pride in its “business-like” approach to standards based on its membership-based organization, because –they argue– it leads to better standards in less time thanks to a less bureaucratic process focused on achieving results by consensus [13].

Figure 6. Ecma International logo

Figure 6. Ecma International logo

The first edition of the ECMA-387 standard was approved in December, 2008. It “is a standard for a 60 GHz PHY, MAC and HDMI PAL for short range unlicensed communications providing high rate wireless personal area network (including point-to-point) transport for both bulk data transfer and multimedia streaming; addressing usages and applications such as high definition (uncompressed / lightly compressed) AV streaming, access point, wireless docking station, and short range sync-and-go.” [14]. The standard defines 3 types of devices (A, B and C) depending on their level of performance, complexity and power consumption. Type A devices are considered high-end, and as such they achieve the highest data rates provided by the standard: 0.397-6.350 Gbps in a single channel. Also, type A devices are capable of dealing with severe multipath channels and support adaptive antenna arrays. Most importantly, devices of types A and B can further increase their data rate by factors of 2, 3 or 4 by bonding adjacent channels together, according to the 60 GHz band channel plan depicted in Figure 7. The applications envisioned for the links achievable with this standard are HD video streaming, fast file transfer between hand-held devices such as mobile phones and media kiosks or personal computers, and wireless docking stations. [6]. A second edition of the standard was published in September 2010.

Figure 7. The 60 GHz band channel plan and frequency allocation regions [15]

Figure 7. The 60 GHz band channel plan and frequency allocation regions [15]

WiGig (IEEE 802.11ad)

The Task Group ad (TGad) of the 802.11 Working Group of the IEEE had their Project Authorization Request approved in December 2008. It was started with the objective “To define standardized modifications to both the 802.11 physical layers (PHY) and the 802.11 Medium Access Control Layer (MAC) to enable operation in the 60 GHz frequency band (typically 57-66 GHz) capable of very high throughput” [16].

The 802.11a/b/g/n versions of Wi-Fi all fail to provide Gbps data rates. The 802.11ac amendment had already achieved 1 Gbps by exploiting the 5 GHz band more effectively, but a truly meaningful extension of Wi-Fi is to come with IEEE 802.11ad, which enables data rates of up to 7 Gbps (more than 10 times the maximum rate of 802.11n) [17]. In the words of Bruce Kraemer, chair of the IEEE 802.11 WLAN Working Group [18]:

IEEE 802.11 is undergoing a continuous process of refinement and innovation to address the evolving needs of the marketplace, and there is no better proof of that fact than IEEE 802.11ad. By migrating up to the next ISM band (60 GHz), we break ground on new spectrum for IEEE 802.11, enable an order of magnitude improvement in performance and enable usages that have never before been possible with existing IEEE 802.11 — namely wireless docking and streaming video.

Figure 8. IEEE logo

Figure 8. IEEE logo

The Wireless Gigabit Alliance (WiGig Alliance) was formed in May 2009 by “technology leaders within the Consumer Electronics (CE), PC, semiconductor and handheld industries to address the need for faster, wireless connectivity between computing, communications and entertainment devices” [19].

Some of these leading companies are Broadcom Corporation, Cisco Systems Inc., Dell Inc., Intel Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, NEC Corporation, Nokia Corporation, Panasonic Corporation, Qualcomm Atheros, Samsung Electronics Co., Toshiba Corporation and Wilocity. Any company may participate in WiGig Alliance. Prospective members are required to sign a member’s agreement, which provides license rights for use of the WiGig specification [19]. Their mission was to establish a unified specification for 60 GHz wireless technologies and drive a global ecosystem of easy-to-use, interoperable, multi-gigabit wireless products. In my opinion, interoperable is a key word here.

 WiGig published their specification WiGig version 1.0 in May 2010, and version 1.1 in June 2011, delivering data rates of up to 7 Gbps, nearly 50 times faster than the highest 802.11n rate, while maintaining compatibility with existing Wi-Fi devices, although within a reduced range: the now familiar line-of-sight 10 m indoor range of 60 GHz technologies. This compatibility, however, provides the advantage that if the user walks outside the main room, the protocol seamlessly switches to one of the lower Wi-Fi bands that work at a much slower rate, but that do propagate through walls [20].

Figure 9. WiGig logo

Figure 9. WiGig logo

WiGig and TGad have cooperated extensively and share common goals, despite the very different nature of both organizations (IEEE being a formal Standards body, and WiGig an industry consortium). In cooperation with WiGig, the IEEE Std P802.11ad-2012 was developed and obtained final approval in October 2012. There are already hundreds of millions of IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi) products deployed worldwide, and WiGig is based on this standard. Some of the key features of the standard are [17]:

  • Support for data transmission rates up to 7 Gbps; all devices based on the WiGig specification will be capable of gigabit data transfer rates.
  • Designed from the ground up to support low-power handheld devices such as cell phones, as well as high-performance devices such as computers; includes advanced power management.
  • Based on IEEE 802.11; provides native Wi-Fi support and enables devices to transparently switch between 802.11 networks operating in any frequency band including 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 60 GHz.
  • Support for beamforming, maximizing signal strength and enabling robust communication at distances beyond 10 meters.
  • Advanced security using the Galois/Counter Mode of the AES encryption algorithm.
  • Support for high-performance wireless implementations of HDMI, DisplayPort, USB and PCIe.

This relationship between WiGig and IEEE will be further explored in the next post.

Discussion

As mentioned above, there were initial worries in the task group TG3c of the working group (WG) 802.15 when news broke of the plans of TGad for WG 802.11. In fact, during one of the first meetings of TGad in January 2009, one of the main topics was a presentation called “802.15.3c Coexistence Assurance Document presentation”. Once the certainty of coexistence was established, the IEEE 802.15.3c went back to its low profile status. As for ECMA-387, even after extensive research, I have been unable to find any devices that use the technology, or any company who has adopted the standard. This is despite the fact that a second edition of the standard was published in 2010. Both IEEE 802.15.3c and ECMA-387 are, in my opinion, part of a different discussion. The former perhaps because it was never intended to achieve the same goals as IEEE 802.11ad and WiHD have set out to achieve, while the latter appears to have failed to lure any adopters. Therefore, from this point on they will not be addressed anymore.

Both WiHD and WiGig are industry-led consortia. Among the reasons for using a consortium instead of a formal standardization organization are that generally they work faster, there is confidentiality among the companies involved (usually by means of non-disclosure agreements), and more possibilities to retain Intellectual Property (IP) rights [21]. This is true both for WiHD and WiGig: the two of them are membership-based and produced their standards at rapid pace. The TG3c of WG IEEE 802.15 was founded in 2005 and it took until 2009 to have a standard ready. TGad of WH 802.11 was formed in December 2008 and the IEEE Std P802.11ad-2012 standard was published in October 2012, even when it assimilated most of the WiGig standard. It is then not hard to argue that industry consortia can work faster than formal standards organizations.

Hesser, Feilzer and de Vries [21] explain that sometimes, standards developed by a consortium are offered to a formal standardization organization at a later stage, and that the reasons for this may include giving the standards additional status, making them better known and ensuring its maintenance by the technical committee of the formal standards organization (since consortia may be dismantled at any given time). These reasons are well reflected in the words of Ali Sadri, President and Chairman of the WiGig Alliance when explaining the cooperation between WiGig and IEEE [18]:

“Our members have worked closely with IEEE on developing the standard. We are excited to say that the WiGig MAC/PHY specification is completely aligned with the published 802.11ad standard. Gaining approval from a global standardization body gives WiGig Alliance additional international recognition and moves us one step closer to widespread industry adoption.”

IEEE 802.11, Wi-Fi Alliance and WiGig Alliance

Although the previous entry gave a description of the reasons for the formation of WiGig and their cooperation with the working group (WG) IEEE 802.11, this post is intended to delve into the very defined standardization process followed at the IEEE, the very close relationship that the 802.11 WG has developed with the Wi-Fi Alliance, and how WiGig fits into this story. Seeing as their standard is the one poised for commercial success (which is by itself a discussion for a following post), I thought it justified to talk about these players at greater length.

 IEEE 802.11 is the Working Group of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) that deals with Local Area Networks (LANs), and its main role is to develop technical specifications for WLAN implementation. The standardization work is conducted in Task Groups (TGs). Before TGs, Study Groups (SGs) are established, and they set the scope and goals of TGs. In general, a TG examines the technical issues and functional requirements required to achieve the goals of activities, and participants then propose technologies for consideration to satisfy those requirements. If the proposed technologies are approved by other participants, then drafts for those technologies are created and submitted for deliberation and approval at the WG level [22].

Since the publication of its first standard (IEEE 802.11) in 1997, many amendments to it have been developed by different TGs to provide higher speed access (802.11a/b/g/n/ac), security (802.11i), quality of service (802.11e), etc.

Figure 10. Overview of the IEEE 802.11x standards family [15]

Figure 10. Overview of the IEEE 802.11x standards family [15]

But it eventually became apparent that even when vendors designed devices that met all the standards, their interconnection was not always guaranteed. For this reason, WLAN vendors established the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (then renamed Wi-Fi Alliance) in 1999 with the mission of ensuring interconnectivity. The Wi-Fi Alliance has since then a comprehensive certification program which gives consumers the certainty that they don’t need to worry about what company manufactured their devices, as long as they are Wi-Fi certified [22].

The standardization process of IEEE 802.11 takes time, so Wi-Fi certification often begins without waiting for the completion of the new standard. This was the case when TGn was approved by IEEE 802.11 on September 2009, and immediately the Wi-Fi alliance started to provide TGn-based certification. With this kind of cooperation, IEEE 802.11and the Wi-Fi Alliance have been contributing to technology innovation in the field of WLAN systems through close cooperation on faster, easier-to-use, and advanced functions [22]. The relationship between these two organizations is illustrated in Figure 11.

Figure 11. Relationship between IEEE 802.11 and Wi-Fi Alliance [22]

Figure 11. Relationship between IEEE 802.11 and Wi-Fi Alliance [22]

IEEE 802.11ad is an amendment to the 802.11 standard (by the ad Task Group, TGad) that enables multi-gigabit wireless communications in the 60 GHz band. The WiGig specification was contributed to the IEEE 802.11ad standardization process, and was confirmed in May 2010 as the basis for the 802.11ad draft standard [17]. The WiGig specification builds on the strong security mechanisms used in IEEE 802.11, has beamforming as an integral part of a protocol that allows devices with directional antennas to discover each other, and ensures optimal performance to products with tri-band radios will be able to transparently switch among 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 60 GHz networks [4] [17].

To ensure interoperability, the alliances (Wi-Fi and WiGig) had already agreed to collaborate on testing for the WiGig specification to certify products and clearly communicate to the consumer which products have passed rigorous interoperability testing [19]. Both alliances held a joint plugfest in January 2013. This was WiGig’s third plugfest, but the first with attendance from the Wi-Fi alliance [23]. A plugfest is a term used about an event around a certain standard where the designers of electronic equipment or software test the interoperability of their products or designs to other vendors. The technical goal is twofold: check compliance to the standard, and test the effectiveness of the standard.  Besides helping vendors improve their interoperability, plugfests facilitate in creating awareness about the standard and can improve transparency on compliancy [24]. On account of the joint plugfest’s success, Dr. Ali Sadri, WiGig Alliance President and Chairman said [23]:

The continuation of our plugfest program is a critical part of our ongoing progress towards certification. With each plugfest we move closer to achieving a fully commercialized new standard. The vision to introduce this technology, which will enable new applications and an unprecedented user experience, is already becoming a mainstream reality and when certification becomes available, we will see an explosion in WiGig products coming to market.

Sarbijt Shelopal, director of the TUV Rheinland test center in San Jose where the plugfest was held, commented [23]:

It has been great to work with the WiGig members on achieving this important milestone in the course of bringing the 60GHz technology to market. We have a wealth of experience in areas such as product certification, consumer electronics and training and knowledge services, and believe there is great potential in this new technology.

In order to develop the 60 GHz standard, the Wi-Fi Alliance and WiGig worked together for a long time, until it was decided that an official partnership would bring out the best of their collaboration [25]. On the 5th of March of 2013, the alliances finalized the agreement defining consolidation of WiGig technology and certification development in Wi-Fi Alliance, which marked the culmination of two years of collaboration between the organizations. Now the Wi-Fi alliance will continue work begun in WiGig Alliance on features that extend WiGig capabilities beyond baseline connectivity, to address a range of applications from high-definition WiGig Display, to peripheral connectivity and I/O cable replacement [26].

Edgar Figueroa, Wi-Fi Alliance president and CEO said [26]:

 ‘’This is a significant and exciting moment for our members and our industry. With 60 GHz efforts concentrated in one organization we have the momentum, technology, and members to deliver on the promise of WiGig technology.

Figure 12. Wi-Fi Alliance absorbs WiGig [25]

Figure 12. Wi-Fi Alliance absorbs WiGig [25]

Now that both organizations are one, it is my opinion that indeed they will increase the momentum of the IEEE 802.11ad standard, and achieve much more streamlined certification processes.

 

Conclusion

Whenever two or more standards that strive to solve the same matching problem are made available, the question is always: which one will “win” the market? Such battles have been studied numerous times as in the competition among standards for cellular telephony, microcomputers, videotape formats, etc. Although there are advantages to having only one standard (like economies of scale, transparency, no cost of converting to another standard, etc.), these battles often arise because any particular standard may have different advantages depending on its involved parties [21].

In the case of standards for very high throughput (VHT) in the 60 GHz frequency band, the two serious contenders, at least for applications of high-speed file transfer and HD video and audio streaming, are WirelessHD and WiGig/IEEE 802.11ad.

The WirelessHD consortium identified a niche in the market: a multi-gigabit per second wireless communications standard optimized exclusively for the transmission of high definition video and audio. By being the first organization to publish a standard in the 60 GHz band, they were the first movers. As described by Hesser, Feilzer and de Vries [21], the first mover may have an advantage over later competing standards by having income from first adopters, good image as innovators, goodwill and brand loyalty, etc. But success is anything but certain for the first mover. A second mover could, for example, learn from the first mover’s mistakes and gain competitive advantage by offering improved product quality, closer to the customer’s preferences.

Moreover, it is my opinion that by failing to include internet access and Wi-Fi compatibility, the WirelessHD consortium dug its own grave. It could be argued at this point that it became a deal breaker for widespread adoption, both by direct and indirect users (the direct users are the implementers, the party that applies the standard, while the indirect users are primarily consumers or professional users of the product, they typically do not read the standard [21]), because there is now a very firmly set expectation by the consumers to always have internet access, and practically every user with internet access owns Wi-Fi certified devices. Why would the consumers or the manufacturers want to adopt an incompatible standard? This would certainly incur unwanted switching or protocol adaptation costs, which might outweigh the benefits offered by the standard (which it does, in my opinion).

As it is, with WiGig now absorbed by the Wi-Fi alliance and the IEEE 802.11ad standard being technically an amendment to the IEEE 802.11 standard, they already count with an incredibly strong installed base (number of users of a standard). This is a great example of the phenomenon of network externalities: the value of the new technology represented by WiGig to a potential new consumer has been greatly increased thanks to the colossal number of customers that already use Wi-Fi devices. Despite the fact that the WiHD standard is in some respects a technically superior standard (the maximum data rate of WiHD is 28 Gbps while that of WiGig is 7 Gbps), I believe WiGig is strong enough to win the market. Any technological limitations on their part will certainly be overcome in the following iterations of the standard (which are currently being worked on), and the support of the IEEE and Wi-Fi alliance granted them all the momentum needed to overshadow the WirelessHD standard. Beyond merely concentrating on facilitating HD entertainment, WiGig’s broader scope is thoroughly but briefly explained in the following video [27]:

In the presence of network externalities it is more likely that one of the competing standards will win than the coexistence of several standards, each with its own part of the market [21]. To further support my argument that WiGig is the winner of this “Standards War”, I would like to direct the reader’s attention to the recent activity of WiGig and WirelessHD. A quick look at the WirelessHD consortium’s official website (at the time of writing) gives off the impression that they have already given up. This might be my own personal opinion, but the most recent entry of the “news” section dates back to the 9th of January, 2013, and no comments were ever left in the note [28]. Despite their first mover advantage, the product listing offered in the official website displays the extremely disappointing number of 6 available products bearing the WiHD logo [29]. This is more than 5 years after the WirelessHD standard was first made available (January 2008).

On the other hand, even though the standard IEEE Std P802.11ad-2012 was formally approved as recently as October 2012, there are already several interesting commercial developments. In June 2011, it was revealed that Panasonic (a WiGig member) was the first company to develop an 802.11ad-compatible chip for mobile devices [30]; Dell has already made available the Wireless Dock D5000 for the Latitude 6430u/E6430 laptops, reasonably priced at $270 USD [31]; Qualcomm and Wilocity have teamed up to deliver the world’s first tri-band Wi-Fi chipset that combines 802.11ac and 802.11ad, and by using 60, 5 and 2.4 GHz radios, will achieve both high speeds and broad compatibility [32]; and Apple has applied for a new patent for a wireless display that would let a touchscreen detach from its laptop base through WiGig and keep its battery powered up through some form of wireless charging [33]. ABI Research is predicting that 60GHz enabled device shipments will exceed one billion units per annum by 2017 [23].

Figure 13. WiGig Commercial Developments [31] [32] [33]

Figure 13. WiGig Commercial Developments [31] [32] [33]

According to De Vries [21], the properties of a good standard are:

  1. Provides a solution for a matching problem.
  2. Fulfills the need of parties (workable and acceptable).
  3. More than one involved party.
  4. Lifetime longer than the process for creating the standard.
  5. Not in contradiction with other valid, operational standards.
  6. Backwards compatibility.
  7. Does not block a-priori future improvements/developments.
  8. Easily readable and unambiguous.
  9. Fit for repetitive, frequent application.

After the discussion maintained along all the posts of this blog, I find WiGig/IEEE 802.11ad to comply with all the 9 conditions above listed. WiGig is a good standard.

I would like to finalize this blog with an interest remark. At least 6 major companies (Broadcom, Dell Inc., Panasonic Corporation, Samsung Electronics Co., Toshiba Corporation and Intel Corporation) are very closely involved with both WirelessHD and WiGig standards, as “Promoters” of the former, and members of the Board of Directors of the latter [20] [34]. I think this speaks volumes about the initial levels of uncertainty about which standard would rule in the end. These companies did not take any chances, and perhaps the benefits of having an important role in development of the triumphant standard outweigh the disadvantages of having to invest in the development of more than one standard. 

References

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