Introduction to 60 GHz Wireless Network Protocols

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In the world of wireless network protocols, a few are designed to run at very high signaling frequencies with the goal support the highest possible data rates for wireless communications.

What Is a 60 GHz Protocol?

This category of wireless protocols operates in a signaling band (range) around 60 Gigahertz (GHz). (Note that the range is quite large: these protocols may communicate at frequencies as low as 57 GHz and as high as 64 GHz.).

These frequencies are significantly higher than those used by other wireless protocols, such as LTE (0.7 GHz to 2.6 GHz) or Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz or 5 GHz). This key difference results in 60 GHz systems having some technical advantages compared to other network protocols like Wi-Fi but also some limitations.

Pros and Cons of 60 GHz Protocols

60 GHz protocols utilize very these high frequencies to increase the amount of network bandwidth and effective data rates they can support. These protocols are especially well-suited for streaming of high-quality video but can be used for general-purpose bulk data transfers also. Compared to Wi-Fi networks that support maximum data rates between 54 Mbps and about 300 Mbps, 60 GHz protocols support rates above 1000 Mbps. While high-definition video can be streamed over Wi-Fi, it requires some data compression that negatively affects video quality; no such compression is required on 60 GHz connections.

In return for increased speed, 60 Gbps protocols sacrifice network range. A typical 60 Gbps wireless protocol connection can only function at distances of 30 feet (about 10 meters) or less. Extremely high-frequency radio signals are not able to pass through most physical obstructions and so indoor connections are also generally limited to a single room.

On the other hand, the greatly reduced range of these radios also means that they are much less likely to interfere with other nearby 60 GHz networks, and makes remote eavesdropping and network security break-ins much more difficult for outsiders.

Government regulatory agencies manage 60 GHz usage around the world but generally do not require devices to be licensed, unlike some other signal bands. Being an unlicensed spectrum, 60 GHz represents a cost and time-to-market advantage for equipment makers that in turn benefits consumers. These radios tend to consume more power than other kinds of wireless transmitters, though.

WirelessHD

An industry group created the first standard 60 GHz protocol, WirelessHD, specifically to support high-definition video streaming. The 1.0 version of the standard completed in 2008 supported data rates of 4 Gbps, while version 1.1 improved support to a maximum of 28 Gbps. UltraGig is a specific brand name for WirelessHD standard-based technology from a company called Silicon Image.

WiGig

The WiGig 60 GHz wireless standard (also known as IEEE 802.11ad) completed in 2010 supports data rates up to 7 Gbps. In addition to video streaming support, networking vendors have used WiGig as a wireless replacement for cabling of video monitors and other computer peripherals.

An industry body called the ​Wireless Gigabit Alliance oversees WiGig technology development.

WiGig and WirelessHD are widely perceived as competing technologies. Some believe WiGig may even replace Wi-Fi technology someday, although this would require solving its range limitation issues.