Newly exploitable wireless technologies for business

5G Wi-Fi

The Wi-Fi standards continue to evolve and new equipment that uses the latest standards provides opportunities for businesses to differentiate themselves.

What is 5G Wi-Fi?

There are four versions of the most significant standard in the set of standards known as Wi-Fi. They are labelled 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n by their creators the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). A new fifth version of the standard labelled 802.11ac will soon be approved by the IEEE. So that could be said to be the fifth generation of Wi-Fi, hence the term 5G Wi-Fi.

5G Wi-Fi only uses the 5 GHz band of radio frequencies. Older versions of Wi-Fi use the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, so beware not to confuse 5 GHz with 5G. To avoid confusion when speaking don't shorten five gigahertz (5 GHz) to 5G, say '5 gig' instead.

The Wi-Fi brand and its trademarks are owned by the Wi-Fi Alliance which is "a global non-profit organization with the goal of driving adoption of high-speed wireless local area networking". Commonly wireless local area network is abbreviated to WLAN.

A search for the term 5G Wi-Fi on the Wi-Fi Alliance website using their own search tool on 2013-07-15 found only one use of the term in relation to a product by the chip manufacturer Broadcom. So the term 5G Wi-Fi is probably a marketing term devised by an equipment maker. In any case, there is an original now obsolete 802.11, so to be more accurate the term should probably be 6G Wi-Fi.

As discussed elsewhere on this website although 5G Wi-Fi equipment is now available the standard has not yet been ratified, so some incompatibility problems could arise.

How can 5G Wi-Fi help my business?

Performance: Early implementations of 5G Wi-Fi are several times faster than the fastest implementations of previous versions of Wi-Fi. Also some tests have reported that 5G Wi-Fi equipment can even improve the performance of devices connecting using older versions of Wi-Fi. Subsequent implementations of 5G Wi-Fi will continue to improve performance. Ultimately the 5G Wi-Fi standard allows for 6.77 Gbps of aggregate wireless throughput with each access point. Due to technical challenges for mobile and portable equipment makers any one device such as a laptop will probably not be designed to achieve more than 3.39 Gbps. As a comparison the previous 802.11n version of Wi-Fi was recently updated to allow maximum of 600 Mbps of aggregate wireless throughput i.e. about 8.86% of what will be possible with 5G Wi-Fi. Note that no 600 Mbps '4G Wi-Fi' equipment currently exists. In practice '4G Wi-Fi' is most commonly 300 Mbps, although 450 Mbps is currently available i.e. about 6.65% of what will be possible with 5G Wi-Fi. This kind of increase in performance creates new possibilities. For some uses the wired network can be there just to service the wireless network i.e. it enables a totally wireless communication environment - from the point of view of its users.

Dependability: The 2.4 GHz frequencies most commonly used by Wi-Fi are also being used by a growing list of other kinds of equipment. Interference from that non-Wi-Fi equipment can seriously reduce Wi-Fi performance and stability. In fact Wi-Fi itself has become so popular that the small range of frequencies it can use are getting too crowded just with Wi-Fi. 5G Wi-Fi only operates in the 5 GHz band which is much less used and has a broader range of available frequencies, so 5G Wi-Fi should be more dependable. As Wi-Fi becomes a more essential service this factor alone should encourage all owners of Wi-Fi networks to migrate to a 5 GHz solution, which in the near and medium term is best served by 5G Wi-Fi.

Range: For technical reasons 5G Wi-Fi has a greater range than previous versions of Wi-Fi operating at 5 GHz. However - due to the laws of physics - that range is still not a good as the range of Wi-Fi operating in the 2.4 GHz band, although this can be offset by installing more access points. Obviously extra infrastructure increases costs disruption and risks. This is the main disadvantage of 5G Wi-Fi for those moving from a previous version operating in the 2.4 GHz band. Regardless, WLAN experts agree that an optimal network should have a high density of access points anyway. Such an arrangement provides flexibilities to deal with high densities of devices, ensure continuously good connections for itinerant devices, and provides alternative access points in the event of a failure of single access point.

Very high bandwidth wireless communication

It is possible to exchange data wirelessly at much high rates even than 5G Wi-Fi, but it comes with a compromise. Higher transfer rates are easier to achieve at higher radio frequencies, but unfortunately due to the laws of physics they travel shorter distances for the same amount of transmission energy used. For health and safety reasons transmission energies are limited by legislation. Nonetheless, this kind of wireless communication can still be useful. One of its common uses is for wireless video which often requires a high bandwidth over short distances. As a result a number of technologies have been developed for this scenario. Probably the two most significant are WirelessHD (WiHD) and WiGig which both work in the 60 GHz band of radio frequencies.

There are several alternatives to WiHD and WiGig that might be used for similar purposes, but they all work in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands and so do not provide very high bandwidth wireless communication. The Wi-Fi Alliance's Miracast will be successful because it is promoted by the Wi-Fi Alliance and it repurposes the now ubiquitous Wi-Fi technology. Intel's WiDi (wireless display) will gain traction because it is already being baked into Intel chips. Others include Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI), Wireless USB, and Apple's AirPlay - which is limited to the Apple ecosystem. Most recently Google's Chromecast uses a combination of a dongle plugged into a HDMI socket of a display and applications running on the sending devices; the transmission is over Wi-Fi. Few of these alternatives have any compatibility with the others, the notable exception being WiDi from version 3.5 compatibility with Miracast. As they all use the 2.4 GHz and/or 5 GHz bands they are intrinsically unable to communicate with WiHD and WiGig.

What is WirelessHD?

WirelessHD is a consortium of manufacturers with a technical specification for wireless communication optimized for video and audio connectivity. WirelessHD (WiHD) is also used to refer to that specification. WiHD operates in the 60 GHz band and from version 1.1 can support transfer rates of up to 28 Gbps. By comparison Wi-Fi operates at the much lower frequencies of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Also WiHD is designed for point to point communication, while Wi-Fi is also used point to multi-point communication. WiHD has been available in products for some time, providing connections between devices like laptops, TV program recorders, tablets, and mobile phones, with computer monitors projectors and TVs.

What is WiGig?

WiGig was a brand name for the Wireless Gigabit Alliance. It was also loosely used to refer to their wireless specifications. WiGig the organization became a part of the Wi-Fi Alliance which now owns the WiGig brand and marks and certifies WiGig capability. WiGig capability is still distict from Wi-Fi, although devices may support both.

The WiGig specifications were based on the IEEE 802.11ad standard, and like WirelessHD use radio frequencies of around 60 GHz to exchange data. WiGig has a maximum transfer rate of 7 Gbps. The 802.11ay specification (expected for approval by the 802.11 Working Group in H2 of 2019) will improve 60 GHz Wi-Fi.

How can WiHD and WiGig help my business?

Flexibility: The ability to connect a device wirelessly to another at higher transfer speeds saves time generally. All other things being equal, it also increases spectrum availability, extending the number of devices the spectrum can support.