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.



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