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.


Get the Broadband Technology Report Newsletters Delivered to Your Inbox

Subscribe to email newsletters today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • Video Technology
  • Network Technology
  • BTR Wrap-Up
  • Technology Alerts
  • BTR LATAM (Latin America)

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

Related Articles

Time Warner Extends WiFi Reach

June 5, 2015 Time Warner Cable has added three cities to its outdoor WiFi network: Da...

Comcast Ethernet Connects Cobb County

June 4, 2015 Georgia's Cobb County Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department ...

HomeGrid Forum Certifies Additional G.hn Products

June 3, 2015 The HomeGrid Forum and Allion Labs, the organization's testing house in ...

BTR Blogs

BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

Welcome to the New BTR-V!

June 1, 2015 Hello, and welcome to BTR's newest product, BTR-V. The "V" is ...
BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

INTX: OTT, Front and Center

May 13, 2015 If you had to name just one overarching theme at this year's inaugural I...
BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

Comcast, TWC Call It Off

April 24, 2015 It's official: Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and Time Warner Cable (NYSE:TWC) h...

White Papers & Special Reports

A Silver Lining in the Cloud

June 2015 Cable operators have aggressively adopted cloud networking and related virtua...

OTT and Cable: A Delicate Balance

May 2015 Over-the-top (OTT) distribution models gradually will transform the video bus...

Cloud for Video Processing

May 2015 Operators and content distributors have the opportunity, if not the obligatio...

Webcasts

Test & Measurement in a Multiscreen World

The provision of any service/anywhere presents test and measurement challenges for cable operators that mix the old and the new. In this webinar, the first of two focusing on test and measurement in July, we examine how operators can ensure that their multiscreen service rollouts proceed smoothly and maintain the expected quality of experience. You’ll hear recommendations specific to the latest adaptive bit rate (ABR) and encoder boundary point (EBP) specifications, particularly around alignment and drift, as well as recommendations for packaging files together for testing of alignment prior to origin.  You’ll also discover the important role RF test continues to play in premises certification, leakage and ingress detection, and avoiding interference among the subscribers’ various devices.

( July 14, 2015 / 02:00 PM

INTX 2015: The Cable Show Branches Out

The old NCTA Cable Show has morphed into INTX, the Internet and Television Exposition. What's new? What's not? What's it all mean?  Join BTR Publisher Tim Hermes and Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson for a discussion of the tech, trends and buzz at this year's INTX in Chicago.

May 14, 2015

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.

Sign up for BTR's FREE newsletters

CONNECT WITH US