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Wi-Fi standard 802.11ad will offer up to 7Gbps over small distances

July 25, 2012

The 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard promises gigabit speeds in the under 6 Ghz spectrum, with a focus mostly on the 5 Ghz band. It’s meant to replace today’s still quite fast 802.11n standard, but we can’t argue with improvements can we? The 802.11ac standard can massively increase speed, but also the energy efficiency, which is important for mobile devices.

But while we’re waiting for the 802.11ac Wi-Fi specification to start being implemented in devices, the Wi-Fi alliance has almost finished another Wi-Fi standard called 802.11ad. The new standard will complement, not replace the 802.11ac spec. The 802.11ad standard uses much of the same technology, but operates on the 60GHz band, which means it will provide a much shorter range, but also a much fatter bandwidth.

Where 802.11ac can [carry] up to three lightly compressed video streams, 802.11ad can deliver uncompressed HD video and cable-free docking at multi-gigabit rates, with very low latency,” says Wi-Fi Alliance spokesperson Kevin Robinson.

That sounds very intriguing, but its usefulness must be validated by some real use cases.  The reason I’m a little skeptical is because 802.11n is already fast enough indoors, faster than pretty much any existing Internet connection at 150-300 Mbps, while 802.11ac promises an even faster 1 Gbit connection.

Plus, 802.11ac will be much better at transferring data through walls and over longer distances, so it’s generally a much better Wi-Fi standard. So, if the 802.11ac is perfectly adequate in all use cases, what is the point of 802.11ad then? Maybe the group behind the standard has some use cases in mind that are not immediately obvious. We’ll see when it arrives within a year.

Marvell has announced a partnership with Israeli startup Wilocity to make tri-band chips, that include the 2.4 Ghz, 5 Ghz and 60 GHz bands, so 802.11ac and 802.11ad will be integrated on the same chip. Wilocity has announced a similar deal with Qualcomm a year ago, so we should expect this kind of chip from Qualcomm as well. Two other startups, Beam Networks and Peraso Technologies, will announce their own 802.11ad chips within 6-9 months.

If it comes integrated in new chips (without inflating the price), it might not matter whether the new 802.11ad standard is that useful or not. But personally I wish that the Wi-Fi Alliance focused their attention elsewhere. I’d be much more interested in a low-frequency Wi-Fi standard that has a range of a few miles, maybe a few tens of miles, which could completely disrupt the centralized LTE technology that carriers are using. Give us that in an unlicensed space like regular Wi-Fi, and we’ll get a ton of innovation out of it, not to mention lower prices from carriers, and that’s if they are still relevant in such conditions.

There is such a technology, called Super Wi-Fi, but it has nothing to do with regular Wi-Fi besides its name, and it’s not developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance. This wireless standard is supposed to work in “white space” (former analog TV broadcasting space), which is in the lower frequencies of the radio spectrum. However, we probably won’t see commercial Super Wi-Fi for at least a few more years, if the standard is even finalized.