The oft-disparaged band is considered a one-room wonder, but the WiGig and WirelessHD camps say it can (un)wire the entire home

Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

December 10, 2009

4 Min Read
60GHz Can Too Run a Home Network

Most people say wireless signals in the 60GHz range can't be used for home networks, but the Wireless Gigabit Alliance (WiGig) and WirelessHD LLC consortia want to give it a go anyway.

To some people, that's screamingly funny stuff. (We'll get to why in a moment.) But at least one telco isn't laughing. As WiGig releases its 1.0 specification today, it's also announcing that SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) has joined up.

In all fairness, WiGig and WirelessHD are first being pitched for less ambitious uses: Most observers think both standards will start out by replacing the HDMI cables behind a TV set. But in both cases, representatives tell Light Reading they've got an eye on home networks.

The nice thing about 60GHz is that there aren't many other devices or networks using that range, so enough spectrum is available to carry streams of uncompressed HD video. WiGig is claiming 3-Gbit/s speeds, and WirelessHD says it's gotten to 4 Gbit/s. Both are well beyond what WiFi can do.

The problem is that 60GHz waves survive distances about as well as goldfish survive shark tanks. Signals at 60GHz get absorbed by oxygen, meaning they lose strength quickly. They can be blocked by a human body. They can get eaten by house pets. (OK, some of these are more true than others.)

Most importantly, steel and concrete can thwart a 60GHz signal, which is why the technology has its reputation for not being able to go through walls.

But that perception is all wrong, claims Ali Sadri, an Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) executive who's president of the WiGig Alliance.

A 60GHz antenna is just 2.5 millimeters long -- small enough that a lot of them can be packed into even a thin TV set or a mobile handset. Put 32 antennas on the transmitting and receiving ends, and you can send enough steered beams to compensate for the losses the signal experiences over distance, Sadri claims.

"In some cases, you could actually transmit to the whole house," he says. And that's one of the applications WiGig wants to pursue.

WirelessHD wants to be considered for home networks, too, but is approaching the idea more slowly. The 1.0 specification, released at the Consumer Electronics Show last January, concentrated on HDMI replacement. But the next version, due to emerge in 2010, will probably take data networking into consideration, says Lianne Caetano, executive director of the WirelessHD consortium.

Could any of this convince carriers other than SK to take a shot at deploying 60GHz home networks for, say, their IPTV customers? For the major North American players, it would take a lot of marketing and possibly a visit from the Mythbusters guys. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) took years to accept WiFi from Ruckus Wireless Inc. as an option for U-verse households. (See Raising a Ruckus With U-verse and AT&T's U-verse Gets Ready for Ruckus .)

"We haven't approached them, to be honest," Sadri says of AT&T.

Europe could be a tough sell as well, because there it's not uncommon for homes to have the concrete walls that give 60GHz trouble. Moreover, some carriers there are already working with Ruckus. (See DT Picks Ruckus Wireless and PT Picks Ruckus Wireless.)

So, 60GHz technology probably won't become the basis for carrier-managed home networks right away. But if it succeeds in the HDMI replacement market, 60GHz could become a video-carrying adjunct to a home network. "The home will be a hybrid network of many technologies," Caetano says.

Sadri notes that it's also possible to exploit the limited range of 60GHz signals: TVs in separate rooms could have their own wireless connections to set-top boxes without interfering with one another.

In aiming for the home network, WiGig and WirelessHD will have plenty of competition. In addition to WiFi, you've got Amimon Inc. pitching its Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI) standard, which runs in the 5GHz range (and might also end up relegated to HDMI-replacement status). (See WiFi Faces Video Challenger.) And any wireless option has to compete against wireline standards such as, HomePlug Powerline Alliance , Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (HomePNA) , and Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) .

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Craig Matsumoto

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Yes, THAT Craig Matsumoto – who used to be at Light Reading from 2002 until 2013 and then went away and did other stuff and now HE'S BACK! As Editor-in-Chief. Go Craig!!

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