Is 802.11ad the Ultimate Cable Replacement?

At the Consumer Electronics Show early last month in Las Vegas, a very unglamorous announcement was made by the IEEE: The organization officially signed off on the 802.11ad standard. 

Though making what to many is a bookkeeping-type announcement at a show filled with shiny gadgetry is a recipe not to be noticed, the advance of 802.11ad is a major step forward in the evolution of the 802.11 WiFi family. And, though products are a year or two down the road, it is a spec that should be watched very carefully by cable operators. 

The bottom line is that 802.11ad is almost certain to become a useful tool in home networking applications. "We see this not only on the computing side, but also the home entertainment side for storage and docking," said Srinivas Pattamatta, the director for computing at Qualcomm Atheros (NASDAQ:QCOM). "We can imagine for cable operators who want HDMI quality with low latency that this we be the right technology."

Each incremental advance of the 802.11 family has taken a fairly similar path: Each sends data a bit faster and a bit longer distance than its processor. This has held true through at least five variants of the standard, and will for the latest, which is 802.11ac. While this family has taken shape and expanded, the ecosystem and other interested parties have developed a generic set of tools such as beam forming and Multiple In Multiple Out (MIMO) antennas.   

The 802.11ad standard is similar - and significantly different. What it shares is the use of the generic toolset. Where it branches off from previous 802.11 is its use of the extremely high 60 GHz range. This means that the use case is turned on its head. 802.11ad, which will be marketed as WiGig, is a very-short-distances technique capable of sending data at the breakneck speed of 7 Gbps. 

Stephen Palm, the senior technical director for Broadcom (NASDAQ:BRCM), pointed out the fundamental need to support mobile devices - which is driving interest in 802.11ac - isn't the main rationale for 802.11ad. It is more of a cable replacement technology to tidy up the "rat's nest" effect of multiple wires connecting set-tops, TV sets, DVRs, etc. "802.11ac is very big in operator plans because of the changing demographic of the viewers," Palm said. "That change in the demographic - going from wired to wireless - doesn’t apply to [the usecase for] "ad.'"

802.11ad never will be a complete replacement for wires because it is a line-of-sight technology that doesn't propagate through walls. However, dual- and tri-band chips already will enable a session to agilely move between WiFi standards. Qualcomm and Wilocity have released the reference design for such a chip. 

Thus, for instance, a user transferring a high-definition movie 3 feet from a home gateway can start out doing so via WiGig. As he or she walks out the door, the transfer would agilely shift to 802.11ac or whatever other "flavor" of WiFi in the chip. For more stationary uses - sending data from a set-top or gateway across the room to a big screen TV, for example - 802.11ad may be the only version necessary. 

This clearly is a long term endeavor. Jay Fausch, Alcatel-Lucent's (Euronext Paris, NYSE:ALU) senior director for customer marketing, suggests that the industry is in a good position. While residential gateways are generating a lot of current interest, they remain a future technology for most operators - as the new WiFi protocols are. This is another way of saying that this all could work out quite nicely. "The timing for the maturation of 802.11ac and ad and the rollout of next-generation residential gateways is reasonably well aligned," he said. "MSOs should be talking about the roadmap."

At the end of the day, cable operators will have a number of 802.11 technologies to choose from. Hal Roberts, a systems engineer and architect for Calix (NYSE:CALX), suggested another role for 802.11ad. In many instances, 802.11ac or the earlier versions of the protocol will suffice for home networks. At some point, however, 802.11ad - operating at that isolated frequency band - may be an offload option when the more common WiFi frequencies become too crowded. "It could take much of the burden off 'ac' when the day rolls around when 'ac' is more mature," he said. "Think of it as a safety value for 'ac.'"

In the bigger picture, cable operators should understand that many of the advances that are being made in what may appear to be different areas can benefit them - and their competitors. The physical laws and design goals are the same across all telecommunications disciplines, said John Chapman, the CTO of Cisco's (NASDAQ:CSCO) Cable Access Business Unit and a Cisco Fellow. In this sense, convergence has already occurred. The interest of operators in 802.11ac and 802.11ad - a family of protocols that wasn’t designed with cable in mind but from which it will benefit - is an example of this. "Cable guys are feeding from the same trough as others," Chapman said. "If it can be built for WiFi, it can be built for cable."

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor for Broadband Technology Report. Contact him at carl@btreport.net.

Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account.

Related Articles

Amdocs

Amdocs Eyes Churn, Ways to Fight It

February 25, 2015 According to research conducted for Amdocs (NASDAQ:DOX), despite the com...
HEVC: Examining the Use Case

The Case for HEVC Still is Not Set

February 25, 2015 The common wisdom is that High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) will bring...
Where's the Best Broadband? Ask the Finder App

Where's the Best Broadband in Town?

February 25, 2015 When companies are considering expansion into new locations or want to u...

BTR Blogs

Carl Weinschenk, BTR Senior Editor

Broadband Redefinition: Prelude to Bigger Changes

February 4, 2015 Make no mistake about it: The cable industry is being challenged by the ...
Sercu

The Significant Differences Between DOCSIS and EuroDOCSIS

February 4, 2015 If you ask cable people for the differences between DOCSIS and EuroDOCSI...
BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

Time for a Metric Calendar

February 4, 2015 Any engineer knows the importance of accurate measurement, particularly ...

White Papers & Special Reports

10 Smart Steps to Revenue Security in a Connected World

January 2015 These are exciting times in cable, for both viewers and operators. The advent...

Optimizing DOCSIS 3.1 Networks: The Benefit of Protocol Analysis

January 2015 As many MSOs begin planning their DOCSIS 3.1 deployments, they need to also c...
Many Choices as Media Gateways Evolve

Many Choices as Media Gateways Evolve

December 2014 The growth of media gateways continues. But there are a number of choices ahe...

Webcasts

DOCSIS 3.1 Update

The new DOCSIS 3.1 spec will bring with it a host of advantages for the cable operator in both speed and bandwidth. However, DOCSIS 3.1 rollouts will not be "plug and play" easy in all cases.

This webcast will be moderated by Ron Hranac and sponsored by Trilithic, Inc.

December 10, 2014
Sponsored By

Expo 2014 Retrospective: A Roadmap for Technology in 2015

Now that we've all had a little time to digest the many events and technologies of SCTE Cable-Tec EXPO 2014, what trends emerge as the hot topics to watch in the coming year? Join BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson and a panel of experts as they run down the trends and pick out the key takeaways from this year's show in a Special Event Webcast.

November 4, 2014
Sponsored By

Featured Hangout

Three Technologies, One Conversation

October 28, 2014

Join BTR in an exclusive Google Hangout for a wide-ranging 30-minute informal discussion of the latest in multiscreen video, home gateways, and testing/monitoring of DOCSIS 3.1 and fiber networks.
Sponsored by Alticast, Hitron Technologies, SCTE, and VeEX.

Featured Podcast

Cox's Guy McCormick on QoS and QoE

November 5, 2014

Listen as Carl Weinschenk, Senior Editor for Broadband Technology Report, and Guy McCormick, Cox Communications' Senior Vice President of Engineering, discuss QoS and QoE.

Watch BTR'S Tech Breakfast - Prepping the Plant for DOCSIS 3.1

Are you getting ready for DOSCIS 3.1?

Watch BTR and its panel of experts as we explore preparations and planning inside the plant for the introduction of DOCSIS 3.1 in the coming years. Tune in and see BTR contributing writer and Cisco Technical Leader Ron Hranac moderate a forum of industry veterans.

Watch the presentation

 

Sign up for BTR's FREE newsletters

CONNECT WITH US