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WiGig Alliance Forms To Create New In-Room Wireless Standard

San Jose, Calif. — Seventeen consumer electronic, PC and semiconductor companies have formed the Wireless Gigabit (WiGig) Alliance to develop a 60GHz-band in-room wireless technology suitable for use in high-definition TVs, PCs, PC peripherals, laptops, cellphones, portable media players (PMPs), digital cameras, camcorders and other battery-operated handheld devices.

The group expects to finalize a spec by the end of the year, and then create a testing program in 2010 to certify the interoperability of WiGig devices. Certified products with a WiGig logo would follow sometime later, the alliance said without getting specific.

Alliance board members are Atheros, Broadcom, Dell, Intel, LG Electronics, Marvell, MediaTek, Microsoft, NEC, Nokia, Panasonic, Samsung and Wilocity. Contributing members are NXP, Realtek, STMicroelectronics and Tensorcom.

The technology’s bandwidth will support real-time streaming of high-definition 1080p 60Hz video in uncompressed form with low latency, yet it will be built from the ground up with the power-consumption efficiencies needed for use in battery-operated handheld devices for speedy file transfers of at least 1GB, said Mark Grodzinsky, chairman of the alliance’s marketing working group. All WiGig-specified devices, including battery-operated devices, will be able to communicate at a minimum of 1Gbps, he said. Non-battery-operated products would be able to communicate at up to 6Gbps, enough to stream one uncompressed 1080p 60Hz video program.

With products incorporating the standard, data transfers that now take minutes over multi-room 802.11n wireless LANs will take only seconds over WiGig at a range up to 10 meters, Grodzinsky said. Transferring data from a fully loaded Blu-ray disc would take less than a minute compared to more than 15 minutes with existing wireless LAN technology, the alliance noted.

Low-power handheld devices would be able transmit at speeds up to around 2.5Gbps at about 2 meters, but to

stream 1080p 60Hz video from a portable device to a TV or PC, the portable device would require some sort of “low-latency, low-memory and low-complexity compression scheme,” Grodzinsky noted.

WiGig technology will compete with a multigigabit 60GHz-band technology developed by the WirelessHD group, whose technology also transmits 60Hz 1080p video in uncompressed form at up to 10 meters within a room. WirelessHD will be included in a top-end Panasonic plasma TV and select LG HDTVs due this year.

The WiGig Alliance, however, contended its technology goes a step farther because it’s a “multipurpose” communications standard built from the ground up “to ensure multiple platforms, including battery-operated handheld devices, can use our technology and move data at gigabit [throughput] speeds,” Grodzinsky said in pointing to the standard’s planned power-consumption efficiency.

“It does not need to be retrofitted or adapted for future applications,” a spokesperson added. “We’re not only developing the MAC and PHY layer. We’re also developing protocol adaptation layers for different applications.”

The WirelessHD group, in contrast, has focused on transmitting high-definition video from set-top boxes to HD displays, Atheros chief technology officer Bill McFarland said. A 60GHz wireless intended as an HDMI cable replacement, Grodzinsky added, “is incomplete.”

Last year, a WirelessHD executive told TWICE that laptops and digital camcorders equipped with WirelessHD could begin appearing within five years of the first WirelessHD-equipped TVs, but he didn’t mention the technology’s potential for cellphones and PMPs.

The “unified” WiGig specification, the alliance contended, “will drive an interoperable ecosystem of easy-to-use, high-speed, low-power wireless products” and “ unify the next generation of entertainment, computing and communications devices.”

Battery-operated devices, however, are unlikely to be among the first WiGig products available to consumers, the alliance admitted. “From our experience, technologies like this do not typically start in the handheld market but usually evolve to get there,” a spokesperson said, “[because] there are internal architecture changes that will likely be required with many handhelds to handle the speeds we will provide.”

WiGig will deliver speeds more than 10 times faster than multi-room 802.11n technology and faster than the single-room wireless USB technology, which clocks in at a maximum 480Mpbs at 3 meters and 110Mbps at 10 meters, the alliance said. Neither 802.11n nor wireless USB have the bandwidth to stream HD video in uncompressed form, although at least one of them, 802.11n, can stream HD video in compressed form.

Streaming HD video in uncompressed form is vital for use with PC- and console-based games, which store video in uncompressed form and require the low latency provided by uncompressed signals to ensure on-screen action responds quickly to gamers’ commands, McFarland noted.

Although WiGig will compete with WirelessHD, it will be designed to coexist with it and other 60GHz-band technologies without interference in a home, the alliance noted. WiGig will also be designed to complement other wireless technologies such as 802.11n and Bluetooth, McFarland said. Wi-Fi and WiGig, for example, could “run in parallel at full speed” in a single device, “but as you move out of 60GHz range, you could maintain a Wi-Fi connection,” he explained.

At least one analyst sees competition between WiGig and WirelessHD. The formation of the WiGig Alliance, said In-Stat analyst Brian O’Rourke, is a “shot aimed directly at SiBeam” and the Wireless HD group. Although multiple semiconductor companies are WirelessHD members, he explained, SiBeam is the only chip company making WirelessHD chips, and no other semiconductor maker has announced plans to build WirelessHD chips. SiBeam, which isn’t a WiGig member, “is by no means out of this,” but “any standard developed by multiple chipmakers is more likely to succeed,” O’Rourke said.

It remains to be seen, however, whether WiGig will be able to deliver on its energy-efficiency promise, O’Rourke noted. “By the laws of physics, 60GHz technology should require a lot of power.” WiGig’s McFarland, however, contends the technology “supports handhelds at low power via different modes of operation,” one of which is to throttle back power-consuming error correction as devices get closer to each other.

The alliance chose the unlicensed 60GHz band because of its worldwide availability and freedom from interference from existing wireless in-room and multi-room technologies, including Wi-Fi, that operate in the unlicensed 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, the alliance said. Those bands “have too much interference to be reliable for things like wireless input/output, uncompressed video streaming, and wireless display,” a spokesperson added.

 Dedicated chipmakers who are members of both WiGig and WirelessHD are Broadcom and Intel. Other members of both groups are Panasonic, Samsung and NEC. Other chipmakers in the WiGig Alliance are Atheros, Marvell and Wilocity.