Earlier this month, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced that the next generation of Wi-Fi devices will be called “Wi-Fi 6,” all but dismissing the cryptic 802.11 variations that have inspired confusion over the past 19 years. But as it turns out, a smaller collection of super high-performance routers and devices will still use the 802.11 designation, and Qualcomm today announced the first chipsets that will power them.
Qualcomm is referring to its latest chipsets as part of its “60GHz Wi-Fi portfolio,” but the technology is also known as 802.11ay and WiGig. Unlike Wi-Fi 6, which solely uses the 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio bands found in today’s Wi-Fi routers, WiGig adds additional 60GHz millimeter wave hardware that delivers even better speeds — albeit with less ability to penetrate walls.
Using 60GHz spectrum, the company’s new QCA64x8 (fixed) and QCA64x1 (mobile) chipsets promise 10Gbps speeds and sub-millisecond latency. Qualcomm claims its new chips deliver extended battery life that sets an industry benchmark for low power consumption, and more than just raw performance. Interestingly, the new chips also enable “always-on ambient Wi-Fi sensing capabilities” so that the locations and movements of people and objects can be identified precisely. While likely intended for signal beamforming, that feature could be used for emergency services, indoor mapping, and other capabilities.
Given that Wi-Fi 6 is likely to be the next big consumer standard, why would anyone care about WiGig? The short answer: It could make better use of just-released fixed 5G home broadband service, as well as similarly fast next-gen wired broadband solutions.
Initial fixed 5G service is promising to deliver up to 1Gbps bandwidth to homes, and users who want to take maximum advantage of that speed will need wireless routers built to match 5G’s bandwidth and latency. Today’s routers and devices can’t come close. “Our 11ay solutions were developed with the flexibility to support a broad ecosystem of smartphone, router or fixed wireless access platforms,” said Qualcomm SVP Rahul Patel, “and provides the industry with the critical building blocks needed to take connectivity performance to the next level.”
Notably, the 802.11ay standard is a followup to the original, fairly obscure WiGig standard 802.11ad, now using four MIMO streams to support four times the bandwidth — up to 44Gbps per stream, or 176Gbps across all four streams. While 802.11ad didn’t catch on with mainstream routers, it was used for high-bandwidth wireless VR headset adapters such as HTC’s and TPCast’s accessories for Vive and Oculus users.
Qualcomm expects that the new chips will be used for 4K entertainment and gaming experiences, lag-free mobile screen casting, and wireless VR/AR experiences. The new chipsets are available today, and could show up in 802.11ay-based WiGig routers next year.