Broadcom Shows Off High-Definition Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi alliance

Gear using the nascent 1Gbps 802.11ac standard will go into production next year, says Broadcom

Products using the next-generation Wi-Fi standard IEEE 802.11ac will start to become available next year, offering speeds capable of carrying multiple high-definition video streams and able to penetrate through walls to serve entire homes, according to Broadcom.

The company, which makes processors for everything from home networking to mobile phones to carrier switches, offered a preview of its 802.11ac plans at a press event in San Francisco on Thursday. Broadcom also discussed other upcoming technologies including a version of Ethernet aimed at automobiles.

Keeping Wi-Fi going

The new 802.11ac standard means that Wi-Fi does not need to be abandoned just yet, and will be able to compete or co-exist with systems such as Wireless HDMI or WiGig that are aimed specifically at carrying high-definition video, Broadcom said.

The company said it expects the upcoming standard to deliver 1.3 gigabits per second (Gbps) of throughput in real-world conditions, up from around 300Mbps for the current 802.11n standard.

These speeds will make it an ideal “plumbing for the Internet-connected home”, said Rahul Patel, vice president for Broadcom’s LAN connectivity business, at the event.Broadcom argued that Wireless HDMI, though faster than 802.11, is too expensive for mass deployment, while WiGig could be a complement to the new Wi-Fi standard. WiGig can offer up to 6Gbps throughput but has a shorter range than 802.11ac.

In February, In-Stat said 802.11ac devices will take off quickly over the next four years, growing to almost a billion by 2015, driven by the ever-pressing demand for more speed.

The company said 802.11ac devices should begin shipping in the second half of next year, probably somewhat ahead of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s certification scheme, which could arrive at the end of 2012, and the finalisation of the IEEE standard, planned for 2013.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is holding its first 802.11ac compatibility testing plug-fest in the second quarter of 2012, paving the way for hardware interoperability. Broadcom said that full ratification of the standard is likely to arrive at the end of 2013, but existing hardware will be able to upgrade for any late changes to the standard via a firmware update, the same procedure followed for 802.11n hardware.

Multiple antennas

802.11ac will use the same multiple-antenna strategy as 802.11n to boost bandwidth, Broadcom said. It will also use wider bands and will drop the 2.4GHz frequency band used by 802.11b and 802.11n hardware in favour of the 5GHz band. Broadcom estimated that up to 95 percent of current Wi-Fi devices operate in the 2.4GHz band. The 5GHz band is thus far less crowded, and also offers 20 non-overlapping channels, compared to just three for the 2.4GHz band.

Beam-forming, a technology that allows the signal to find the most efficient route through space to its destination and is optional for 802.11n, will be essential to the 802.11ac standard.

The 802.11ac standard will be more battery efficient than 802.11n due to its greater performance, while remaining backward-compatible with 802.11n gear, Broadcom said.

Putting mobile into automobile

Broadcom also said it is working on a version of Ethernet that uses thin, light-weight cables, and is therefore suitable for replacing the specialised wiring currently used in automobiles.

This wiring could support new technologies such as camera systems placed around the outside of the car and new video and security networks within the vehicle, Broadcom said.

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