You might think at first glance that WiGig is better than Wi-Fi, and that given the choice between the two you’d obviously want the one with the word “gig” in the name. It sounds faster, because it is. However, WiGig has limitations that restrict it to more niche uses than traditional Wi-Fi.
WiGig is the new brand established by the Wi-Fi alliance for the 802.11ad standard. It operates in the unlicensed 60GHz frequency range and promises data transmission rates up to 7Gbps. Real-world throughput will likely be slower, but theoretically—using different modulation and beam-forming techniques—WiGig could yield speeds of up to 25Gbps. That gives a whole new meaning to the term “blazing fast.”
How fast is WiGig? According to Wilocity—a company that manufactures 60GHZ chips used for WiGig—it can transfer 1000 photos between notebooks in five seconds. Uploading a two-minute HD video recording from a camcorder takes about a minute on a standard 802.11n Wi-Fi network, but would take a mere three seconds over WiGig. Downloading a 1080p HD movie would take three minutes instead of the hour it consumes over 802.11n.
Of course, 802.11n is no longer the king of the hill for Wi-Fi networks. We now have the nascent 802.11ac standard, which is significantly faster than 802.11n, and yet still much, much slower than the 802.11ad WiGig technology. The 802.11ac standard was dubbed “Gigabit Wi-Fi,” and is theoretically capable of gigabit-per-second transmission, but the real-world speed achieved from a single device is generally about half that (500Mbps).
Don’t expect to just skip 802.11ac, and replace your 802.11n Wi-Fi network with WiGig. Because it operates in the 60GHz frequency range, WiGig has severe limitations in terms of range. A higher frequency means a shorter wavelength. A shorter wavelength equals higher attenuation, and shorter range. Your Wi-Fi network operating in the 2.4GHz or 5GHz range can extend for hundreds of feet—from your desk to the board room, or from one end of your house to the other. WiGig has a range of about 30 feet.
For specific use cases, WiGig will be awesome. It will compete with other technologies like WirelessHD (which also operates in the 60GHz range) as a standard for wirelessly transmitting audio and video from a tablet or game console to a TV, or from an audio system to speakers. It will be great for living room entertainment because it can free you from the ugly tangle of wires running here and there. The advantage WiGig has over WirelessHD is that it’s at least possible to create a chip capable of delivering Wi-Fi and WiGig from the same device—enabling technology that can seamlessly switch between 802.11ac and 802.11ad so you can take advantage of WiGig while you’re in range and drop back to 802.11ac Wi-Fi when you leave the room.
The Wi-Fi alliance created a separate WiGig brand because of potential compatibility issues. Not all WiGig equipment will maintain backwards compatibility with Wi-Fi networks, and that would create confusion for the Wi-Fi brand.
So, feel free to shop for devices stamped with the WiGig logo, but also make sure they’re capable of delivering old-school Wi-Fi at the lower frequency ranges, or at least go in knowing that your WiGig network won’t do you much good outside of the room the router is sitting in.
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Tony is principal analyst with the Bradley Strategy Group, providing analysis and insight on tech trends. He is a prolific writer on a range of technology topics, has authored a number of books, and is a frequent speaker at industry events.