Wi-Fi Races into a Faster Future


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For wireless adoption to continue growing, mobile devices' capabilities may have to expand, particularly in areas such as video streaming, gaming, and graphics-intensive applications. Cloud streaming promises to let resource-constrained mobile devices provide such capabilities.

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Wi-Fi Races into a Faster Future

  1. 1. T ECHNO LOGY NE W S Wi-Fi Races into a Faster Future Lee Garber Two new faster Wi-Fi versions appear ready to make the technology suitable for a broader range of applications.U ntil recently, most users vice president of marketing. How- in the 2.4- and 5-GHz frequency bands relied on Wi-Fi networks ever, industry observers say most of and offers a theoretical maximum simply to access webpages the important work on the standards throughput of 150 Mbits per second and e-mail, activities that is already done. Vendors thus have per data stream.don’t require much bandwidth. started releasing new products, such A lt houg h I E E E 802.11n wa s Now, the technology can be utilized as access points (APs), based on one released more than two years ago,in some cases for more demanding of the technologies. Wi-Fi equipment has not advancedapplications such as multimedia The Wi-Fi Alliance and WiGig enough to use all of the approach’sstreaming and audioconferencing. Alliance, both trade associations, are capabilities. Today, however, users want more developing programs to guarantee thatfrom their wireless technologies, such certified products will comply with the Multiple data streamsas the ability to smoothly stream current state of the IEEE standards and 802.11n is designed to work withvideo, download music or large data interoperate with one another. multiple-input, multiple-output tech-files, videconference, participate in Industry observers say the new nology. MIMO increases throughputmultiplayer games, and remotely or technologies mark another important by using multiple antennas on bothautomatically control thermostats or step in the development of Wi-Fi tech- transmitters and receivers, enablingother systems. nology. However, the new approaches more than one data stream. The demand for using Wi-Fi for face several important challenges to IEEE 802.11n allows up to foursuch purposes is driving dramatic future success. data streams at a time by enablingchanges to the technology. the use of four antennas on the IEEE is developing two faster Wi-Fi WI-FI 101 transmitter and four on the receiver,versions, both with theoretical maxi- Wi-Fi is a radio technology that a configuration known as 4 × 4. Thismum speeds of more than 1 Gbit per works via a chip that contains a would yield a theoretical maximumsecond. This level of performance transmitter, receiver, and one or more data rate of 600 Mbps per chip (150has been a longtime goal of Wi-Fi antennas. Mbps per data stream), and increaseproponents, noted Todd Antes, vice NCR Corp. developed an early the maximum transmission range.president of product management Wi-Fi-like approach in the mid- Vendors such as Qualcomm havefor the Networking Business Unit at 1980s as a wireless alternative to announced chips that enable 4 × 4Qualcomm, a provider of wireless wireline network technologies such but haven’t shipped any productstechnology and services. as Ethernet. yet, noted Craig Mathias, founder IEEE isn’t expected to finish its IEEE released the first Wi-Fi of the Farpoint Group, a wirelessstandardization until the second half standard in 1997 and has since communications advisory firm.of next year, according to Rahul Patel, adopted 802.11a, b, g, and n versions. Numerou s vendor s, such a ssemiconductor vendor Broadcom’s 802.11n, approved in 2009, operates Hewlett-Packard, have released 3 × 30018-9162/12/$31.00 © 2012IEEE Published by the IEEE Computer Society MARCH 2012 13
  2. 2. T ECHN O LOGY NE W S NEW WI-FI APPLICATIONS AND PRODUCTS more clients at the same bandwidth I than products offering just two data EEE’s development of two dramatically faster Wi-Fi versions will let various types of streams. applications use the technology for the first time. Wi-Fi was too slow to work with these types of applications in the past. Beam forming New applications 802.11n enables Wi-Fi to use beam IEEE 802.11ac will be effective for the same applications that Wi-Fi is already useful forming to improve performance. for: device connection and Ethernet replacement, according to Matthew Gast, director With this technique, the Wi-Fi of product management for Wi-Fi vendor Aerohive Networks. However, he added, the technology’s higher performance will also make it appropriate infrastructure sends out multiple for demanding applications that couldn’t previously use Wi-Fi, such as videoconferencing. signals and analyzes client feedback He said it will also improve voice communications by reducing latency, as well as upgrade to determine the optimal path that the performance of wireless sensor networks that connect to the Internet to make their signals should take to reach the data available to users. client. It then shapes the signal beam In addition, 802.11ac could be suitable for real-time, peer-to-peer applications such as gaming, storage, and device synchronization, said Todd Antes, vice president of product appropriately. management for the Networking Business Unit at Qualcomm, a provider of wireless Vendors are selling equipment technology and services. for large corporations that use Other new potential uses include multiplayer gaming; wireless I/O; high-speed data beam forming, said Mathias, but the networking; machine-to-machine communications in, for example, smart grids for efficient approaches are typically proprietary. energy distribution; and public-safety applications such as security-camera monitoring. Commercial applications could include the control and monitoring of Internet- connected home and business infrastructure systems like those providing heating and TOMORROW’S WI-FI air conditioning. Public utilities could employ 802.11ac to control energy consumption As the “New Wi-Fi Applications during periods of heavy usage and potential system overloads. and Products” sidebar describes, Eventually, said Craig Mathias, founder of the Farpoint Group, a wireless communications one of the most important visions for advisory firm, manufacturers could design 802.11ac APs so that they could function as extensions to 3G and 4G cellular networks. “Many smartphones can work with Wi-Fi, so Wi-Fi is for it to become faster and consumers could use the technology in some cases for calls,” he explained. This could thus applicable for handling more improve phone connections indoors, where cellular systems sometimes have problems, tasks. Several forces are driving this and also offload traffic from cellular networks. development. Because of its short range and inability to penetrate walls, proponents say, 802.11ad “We’l l s e e Wi-Fi be come a would be ideal for use in small rooms within homes or in open office areas. For example, said Rahul Patel, semiconductor vendor Broadcom’s vice president of marketing, the pervasive technology, most notably technology could replace the many wires frequently used to connect parts of home- in personal mobile devices: handsets, entertainment systems. tablets, smartphones, notebooks,” It could also enable short-range uncompressed-video transfers and other point-to- stated Qualcomm’s Antes. He said point applications, said William S. Kish, cofounder and chief technology officer of wireless- this has created a need for faster equipment vendor Ruckus Networks. wireless technologies because Products “clients will put increasing demands According to Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director for the Wi-Fi Alliance trade on mobile networks.” association, consumer and enterprise products—ranging from laptops, tablets, and This trend will be exacerbated printers to TVs, home appliances, and smartphones—will use 802.11ac. by the growing amount of traffic, Networking infrastructure equipment—including routers, gateways, and adapters— will also include the technology. “Our APs will support 802.11ac and 802.11ad once including an increasing proportion baseband and radio chipsets supporting these standards are readily available, probably in of video and other data-intensive late 2012 or 2013,” said Ruckus’ Kish. multimedia. Also, Antes added, more Aerohive Networks plans to release 802.11ac-based APs for consumer products later consumers are gaining broadband this year, and equipment for large-scale networks in 2013, said Matthew Gast, the Internet access, which means they company’s director of product management. He said Aerohive isn’t concerned about releasing products before the formal IEEE standard is finished because the IEEE’s work is could take advantage of faster Wi-Fi very far along, small changes could be easily added to products via firmware, and there is versions. strong user demand for faster Wi-Fi products now. Early 802.11ac products will also work with 802.11n, and customers will probably use IEEE 802.11ac them to provide the slower technology until they are ready to commit completely to the I E E E i s work i n g on a new faster version. For example, Broadcom’s Patel said, his company plans to release 5G Wi-Fi chips that will work in the 2.4- and 5-GHz frequency bands and be backward-compatible technology, 802.11ac, that would with earlier Wi-Fi technologies. be used in the 5-GHz frequency band. This band is not as heavily used as—and thus experiences less systems already, though, for use in the APs either offer 50 percent more interference than—the 2.4-GHz products such as APs. These chips let bandwidth or handle 50 percent band.14 COMPUTER
  3. 3. How it works has been one of the largest drains on means communications would expe- The approach provides higher batteries in smartphones and tablets.” rience less interference.speeds primarily by doubling the As is the case with 802.11ac,size of the channels—to 80 MHz Wi-Fi Alliance early chips implementing 802.11adf rom 802.11n’s 4 0 M Hz—over The Wi-Fi Alliance is already might also support transmissions ofwhich data is transmitted. In the designing a Wi-Fi Certified program earlier Wi-Fi technologies that workfuture, depending on government for 802.11ac products, even before in the 2.4- and 5-GHz frequencyregulations, 802.11ac could allow the IEEE completes work on the ranges, enabling the use of the160-MHz-wide channels. standard, noted Kelly Davis-Felner, faster approach when necessary 802.11ac would also increase the organization’s marketing director. but slower, more energy-efficientthroughput by using MIMO to allow The alliance is determining which technologies when appropriate,up to eight data streams at a time, features of the standard’s current Mathias said.compared to the four that 802.11n version should be included in its cer-permits. tification program. The organization CHALLENGES The new approach would enable Despite the enormous promise,multiuser MIMO. Whereas basic the new Wi-Fi technologies also faceMIMO enables communications Today, users want challenges.from one AP to a single client, each For example, because the tech- more from theirwith multiple antennas, MU-MIMO nologies are new, some consumerse n a ble s c om mu n ic a t ion s v i a wireless technologies. might wait to see how well productsseparate streams from a single AP work initially before adopting them.to multiple clients. This improves However, said Farpoint’s Mathis,performance by serving clients in plans to issue its first certifications that shouldn’t be a big problem,parallel rather than serially, as has “in very late 2012 or early 2013,” as Wi-Fi has a long history, andbeen the case. according to Davis-Felner. 802.11ac and ad are evolutionary, 8 02 .11a c a l s o u t i l i z e s 2 5 6 not revolutionary, changes to thequadrature amplitude modulation, IEEE 802.11ad technology.which uses frequency and amplitude IEEE is working on specifications Nonetheless, noted Matthew Gast,changes to encode data onto a radio for implementing Wi-Fi in the 60-GHz director of product management forsignal. This enables encoding four frequency band. The 60-GHz band Wi-Fi vendor Aerohive Networks,times as dense as the 64 QAM that offers more spectrum, providing a “It’s a new technology. There areIEEE 802.11n uses. wider pipe that enables fast speeds always bugs.” Also, vendors may find Thus, 802.11ac would offer data t hat cou ld smoothly t ra nsmit developing drivers and other types ofrates up to 1.3 Gbps on 3 × 3 MIMO uncompressed high-def init ion software necessary to make 802.11acsystems, based on 433 Mbps per video. IEEE 802.11ad will provide a function properly to be a complexchannel. The speeds vary based on theoretical maximum throughput process.the numbers of antennas used on the of 7 Gbps. In some cases, users will need achips and the distance over which However, Mathias noted, the faster backbone network to worktransmissions must travel. physics of signal propagation in with the technology. And many won’t The technology also works with the 60-GHz band mean the signals know exactly how they can use theor thogona l frequency-division remain strong only over short approach until they find out howmultiplexing, a popular technique d ist a nces a nd genera lly don’t much the throughput declines overthat increa ses a t ra nsmis sion penetrate solid objects. This could increasing distances.channel’s capacity by dividing a make it suitable for applications Another challenge, is that 802.11acradio signal into multiple subsignals such as replacing wires in home operates in the 5-GHz band only andthat are transmitted simultaneously entertainment systems. can’t interact with legacy 2.4-GHzat different frequencies to the The WiGig Alliance is developing Wi-Fi networks such as those usingreceiver. a complia nce progra m a nd 802.11b, g, and n. By enabling fast downloads and specifications that would let vendors Because 802.11ad has such a shorttransmissions, 802.11ac reduces the st a r t developing interoperable range and is the first Wi-Fi version toamount of time that batteries must products based on 802.11ad now, work in the 60-GHz frequency band,spend powering such activities, which even before IEEE finishes its work. Gast stated, vendors will have toextends battery life, said Broadcom’s Few devices currently use the “relearn a whole set of skills.” ThosePatel. In the past, he noted, “Wi-Fi 60-GHz frequency band, which include identifying the interference MARCH 2012 15
  4. 4. T ECHN O LOGY NE W S issues in that part of the spectrum and smoother than earlier Wi-Fi nology replacing wired technology.” and determining the number of transitions. “The future of Wi-Fi remains APs needed to handle longer-range The advent of 802.11ac and ad will very strong,” sa id Jay Botelho, transmissions. lead to continued growth in the sale director of product management at Gast said cost shouldn’t be a major of Wi-Fi-enabled products, the Wi-Fi WildPackets, a vendor of network- issue for 802.11ac and ad adoption. Alliance’s Davis-Felner predicted. monitoring hardware and software. The technologies will be more “The tota l volume of products “It is already way beyond critical expensive initially, he explained, shipping globally is expected to rise mass, and it will remain the go-to but the cost will drop over time. In to 2 billion annually by 2015, up from solution for the last 100 yards of any fact, Farpoint’s Mathias predicted, just over 1 billion in 2011,” she said. data network. Users are now depen- by December 2012, 802.11ac-based “We anticipate the majority of dent on Wi-Fi, and there’s nothing product s’ prices shou ld be Wi-Fi shipments starting in 2014- even close in the market that’s ready comparable to those using 802.11n. 15 being 802.11ac based,” added to take its place.” Broadcom’s Patel. A driving force will be the ability Editor: Lee Garber, Computer; D ave Favreau, vice president of 802.11ac “to enable us to do things l.garber@computer.org of pr o du c t m a n a g ement with Wi-Fi that we haven’t been able for Qualcomm’s Consumer to do before,” said Aerohive’s Gast. Selected CS articles and columns Business Unit, said the move from According to Gast, “This is another are available for free at http:// 802.11n to 802.11ac should be faster step in the process of wireless tech- ComputingNow.computer.org. IEEE T R A N S A C T I O N S O N AFFECTIVE COMPUTING A publication of the IEEE Computer Society Affective Computing is the field of study concerned with understanding, recognizing and utilizing human emotions in the design of computational systems. The IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing (TAC) is intended to be a cross disciplinary and international archive journal aimed at disseminating results of research on the design of systems that can recognize, interpret, and simulate human emotions and related affective phenomena. Subscribe today or submit your manuscript at: www.computer.org/tac16 COMPUTER