Perhaps, lost amid the recent uproar about new smartphones and phablets for the holidays, was Samsung’s announcement that it has revolutionized Wi-Fi by operating at 60 GHz. That and the enhancements Samsung says it has made allow performance using the IEEE 802.11ad protocol to deliver massive speed increases over existing Wi-Fi –transferring a 1-Gbyte file in less than 3 seconds. This obviously sounds like a Samsung-only accomplishment, and in some ways, it is. But it helps to get the whole picture.
First, Samsung didn’t invent Wi-Fi at 60 GHz nor did it invent the first 60 GHz Wi-Fi product, the latter being Wilocity’s
Wil6300 802.11ad Wi-Fi chipset for smartphones, which it announced at the Mobile World Congress earlier this year (after which the company was acquired by Qualcomm). Development within the IEEE standard development process was championed by the WiGig Alliance (later incorporated into the Wi-Fi Alliance) earlier than 2009.
The protocol is intended for 60 GHz operation, includes sophisticated beamforming techniques, and other capabilities that make it well suited for communications between devices within a network. Thanks to dynamic beamforming and the immense bandwidth available way up in the millimeter-wave region, it has the “room” to deliver performance 50 times faster than IEEE 802.11n or about 7 Gb/s. It’s compatible with current Wi-Fi standards at 2.4 and 5 GHz to which it can switch when operation at 60-GHz can’t be achieved.
And that’s a very good thing because signals at 60 GHz are hindered by more or less anything in their way, which is why there are few applications operating there. At its standard-mandated power level, this limits range to about 15 ft., which is why it’s so appealing for device-to-device data transfer.
What Samsung has actually done is make some notable enhancements to 802.11ad, and among other things achieve performance closer to the theoretical maximum by dealing with co-channel interference (PDF). It has also openly stated its goal to incorporate 802.11ad technology in its Samsung Smart Home-enabled consumer products and others as well.
A standard probably more important in the near term is IEEE 802.11ac, which increases the performance beyond IEEE 802.11n to 500 Mb/s, which is accomplished by increasing signal bandwidth up to 160 MHz, more Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) data streams, multi-user MIMO on the downlink signal, and 256 QAM digital modulation. It also allows simultaneous streaming of HD video to multiple devices throughout a home, and several features new to Wi-Fi. It also operates at 5 GHz, which gives it the same range as current 802.11n routers.
Barry Manz is president of Manz Communications, Inc., a technical media relations agency he founded in 1987. He has since worked with more than 100 companies in the RF and microwave, defense, test and measurement, semiconductor, embedded systems, lightwave, and other markets. Barry writes articles for print and online trade publications, as well as white papers, application notes, symposium papers, technical references guides, and Web content. He is also a contributing editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense, editor of Military Microwave Digest, co-founder of MilCOTS Digest magazine, and was editor in chief of Microwaves & RF magazine.
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