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Groups to discuss 60GHz band conflict

Posted: 06 Jun 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Wi-Fi? G-bit? VHT? bandwidth?

Engineers who want to draft a standard for Gbit-class Wi-Fi are betting on the same 60GHz spectrum that is being used by another wireless standard in the works. The two groups will meet this month in an effort to avoid a conflict during a major standards gathering in July.

The June 19 meeting will likely be one of the first volleys in a protracted battle to define the future of high bandwidth, short-range wireless networking for emerging markets such as home networks. That's because many companies eager to deliver multiGbit local and personal area wireless network are converging on the 60GHz band.

"From a regulatory point of view, 60GHz is really the only cost-effective approach for such high data rates," said an engineer, who requested anonymity, involved in the meeting.

The IEEE 802.11 study group on very high throughput (VHT) will meet with the IEEE 802.15.3c group on wireless personal area networks (PANs) on June 19. According to the rules of the IEEE, the newer VHT group must show it has technologies and market applications that are sufficiently different from the ongoing work of the .3c effort to gain approval from senior IEEE staff to draft its standard.

Wi-Fi road map
The VHT group is trying to make the road map for Wi-Fi used in millions of notebook computers and home networks and a growing number of cellphones and MP3 players. The .3c effort aims to deliver a new capability for PANs that could send uncompressed HD video between a set-top box and a wall-mounted LCD TV.

"The two groups are set to discuss things constructively this June to avoid conflict in July," said the source, adding that the leaders of both groups are doing their best to let everyone work together.

"To be technically different, the VHT group can define a standard that includes support for fast switching between Wi-Fi at 2.4GHz, 5GHz and 60 GHz. It can also define a capability for devices to negotiate at the lower frequencies a move to high-bandwidth 60GHz links," he noted.

But defining different application spaces, something the IEEE also requires, can be tougher. The .3c group focused its standard on serving video distribution and high-bandwidth device synchronization.

When asked what applications the VHT group might define, the source said that is something he can't answer yet.

"The two groups probably will find a way to define separate specifications and products based on them that probably will compete in the market," said Craig Mathias, consultant, Farpoint Group.

The two will compete with other high-bandwidth home networking options such as various flavors of UWB as well as proprietary techniques by companies such as Amimon. Several of the options were displayed in prototype products at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January.

"There are a number of techniques available, and ultimately these may come to one or two, but in the early stages you don't want to discourage any approach," said Mathias. "You have really smart people working on really hard problems and no one will get it all right," he added.

He noted that both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi coexist at 2.4GHz serving different applications. The IEEE has tolerated competition for technologies, which it helped in developing the 802.16e WiMax and .20 standards as well as token ring and Ethernet.

"Ultimately there will be conflict in the market and that will be a good thing," he stressed.

"At this point, it is too early to speculate what companies might have an edge in the brewing technology battle," Mathias said. Startup SiBeam already has a version of .3c coming to market while Wi-Fi giants such as Atheros Communications Inc. and Broadcom Corp. will likely wait on the VHT process before developing 60GHz Wi-Fi chips.

"As the Ozmo announcement indicates, WLANs and WPANs are on something of a collision course," said Mathias, referring to the start-up that released 802.11 chips competing with Bluetooth for design wins in headsets, keyboards and mice.

The VHT group wants to get approval in July on the definition and rationale for the standard it envisions so it can officially begin to work on it. The .3c group is already well along with the standards definition process and hopes to have an initial letter draft available by early 2009.

The VHT group has earlier considered two possibilities. It wants to develop a specification for a wireless network running at a Gbit/s at 60GHz using a modified Wi-Fi media access controller. It has also discussed creating a specification for a network that provides an aggregate throughout of Gbit using multiple links at less than 6GHz.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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