WiGig: what is it and when will we see it?

800px-WiGig_Alliance_Logo

WiGig came up while interviewing Mano Gialusis and Pat Kannar for this morning’s story on Dell’s Precision workstations.

Although I’ve heard the term before, until now the technology has been shadowy. That could be set to change. Dell’s workstations are hardly mainstream, but this year’s high-end wireless technology could soon be everywhere.

Gialusis and Kannar told me Dell uses WiGig as a wireless docking technology for the company’s flagship mobile workstations. So, I asked the obvious question: that’s like a faster version of Wi-Fi?

The answer isn’t simple. WiGig is clearly related to Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi alliance looks after WiGig’s standards and certification.

WiGig: blazingly fast, but…

WiGig is faster than Wi-Fi – normally with speeds of up to 6 Gbps. It operates at least 50 times the speed of today’s desktop wireless standard. In theory those speeds can be boosted to 25 Gbps. In practice that means moving an HD movie between devices in less than three minutes.

Hoever, there are important differences. Gialusis and Kannar told me WiGig is used for different applications. From Dell’s point of view the technology means you can walk into a room with a mobile workstation and instantly hook-up to remote screens, loud-speakers, mice, keyboards and other devices. WiGig is mainly about media transfer.

WiGig uses different spectrum to Wi-Fi, it operates at around 60 GHz. Higher frequencies mean shorter wavelengths. In plain English this means signals don’t extend as far, typically you only use WiGig within a single room. In other words, it’s much faster than Wi-Fi, but has a significantly shorter range.

And there’s the big disappointment. Those of us who’d like to hook up fibre connections to a house full of gadgets won’t be able to use WiGig for the task. It’s either push conventional Wi-Fi to its limits or run cables around the rooms.

Antennae twitching

Dell’s workstations have a steerable WiGig antennae, apparently that’s important. It also makes things a little more fragile.

This goes some way to explain why WiGig isn’t called Wi-Fi+ or something similar. The two standards are different. Although some equipment may have both Wi-Fi and WiGig, you can’t expect the two standards to interconnect.

Another issue is that WiGig has competitors. At least two other wireless technologies are vying to fill the same niche. Wi-Fi has its market to itself.

Clearly Dell is early to market with WiGig – most other hardware makers don’t expect to get devices to market until 2014.

 

Australia’s dysfunctional fibre v wireless debate

Thankfully New Zealand doesn’t echo Australia’s ridiculously politicised telecommunications scene.

Across the Tasman, those on the right of the political spectrum take every opportunity to dismiss government plans to build the NBN – a fibre to the premises network. Meanwhile, some NBN supporters are just as fanatical.

Things took a turn for the surreal when Australians learnt of Samsung’s 5G announcement. The company demonstrated 28GHz band wireless technology capable of delivering data at multi-gigabit rates.

The NBN’s opponents leaped on this news as evidence the fibre roll-out is a waste of time. NBN’s supporters were quick to dismiss those arguments and claim wireless data will never move beyond being an also ran technology.

As is often the case with Australian communications debates, there is more heat than light.

Where consumers have a choice – Japan is the most obvious example – wireless data networks inhibit fibre uptake. But then NBN supporters point out users share wireless bandwidth and it is impractical for high-speed applications.

Or maybe not. Samsung’s 5G…

…it will not be your grandfather’s “shared and congested” wireless, given the antenna theory behind 5G essentially mimics a point-to-point network.

  • Grahame Lynch writing in CommsDay

The 28Ghz band is line-of-site and, apparently, difficult to work with. Samsung’s demo delivered 1Gbps, but only over 2 kilometres. In other words a practical 5G network means a lot of fibre will be laid to cell towers. Along the way it will pass a lot of homes and businesses.  So to some extent, a 5G roll-out could complement a fibre roll-out in New Zealand where Chorus connects homes and cell towers.

Australia’s market is so comprehensively distorted by the government’s NBN project that the prospects for any alternative network are effectively at the government’s whim. If 5G really challenged NBN, officials could simply strangle it in its infancy with a little careful policy bastardry.

New Zealand’s telecommunications market isn’t perfect, but when it comes to politics intersects with technology, few here steal jealous glances across the Tasman.

Telecom NZ boosts phone booth WiFi hotspots

free-wifi-zone-xmas-2012Telecom NZ is increasing the number of WiFi hotspots on its network.

The first wave of hotspots, which provided free wireless data during a trial period over the summer, were located in holiday towns throughout the country. There were roughly 100 hotspots.

Telecom NZ is extending the network – the NBR reports there are now 115 sites and the network will continue to grow. Presumably it won’t stay free to all comers indefinitely. It’ll be interesting to see how this project develops.

Presumably Telecom NZ will use the service as a competitive point of difference. A free service for existing Telecom mobile customers – even with data caps – would be a huge draw card.

Until now New Zealand has had relatively few WiFi hotspots compared with overseas. We’ve noticed overseas visitors surprised by the relatively low number of access points. 

WiFi hotspots are particularly important here given the high cost of mobile data in this country. I used one during my summer holiday to bulk upload photos while on the road. Sending the same amount of data using the 3G network would have cost a small fortune.

During my test I found the network rarely extends more than around 80 metres from a phone booth. The speeds were comparable with my home WiFi network – more than fast enough for most applications. I never got close to using the data cap.

My only complaint is that the free wi-fi equipped phone booths are rarely within range of decent cafes serving good coffee. Can someone please fix that?