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Wi-Fi leaps higher in speed, range


Staff Writer

To support the explosive growth of information and communications technology, wireless Internet connectivity is now considered essential infrastructure and is sometimes referred to as the fourth utility, after electricity, water and gas.

Along with such technologies as 4K/8K ultrahigh definition videos and the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) — the concept of enabling all manner of physical objects to collect and exchange data — the technologies based on the wireless networking standards commonly known as Wi-Fi are also evolving.

One is Wireless Gigabit (WiGig), a next-generation standard that could significantly slash the time needed to download high-resolution video.

WiGig can be more than 10 times faster than conventional Wi-Fi, said Koji Takinami, chief of Panasonic Corp.’s Wireless Technology Department.

“As video content evolves to 4K and 8K in the near future, the speed of conventional Wi-Fi will become too slow to download it,” Takinami said. “We will inevitably need high-speed wireless network connections by then.”

Commissioned by the internal affairs ministry, Panasonic developed networking devices based on WiGig and held what it billed as the world’s first public demonstration of the speedy technology for nine days last month at Narita airport.

Panasonic boasts that WiGig devices can download 120-minute videos in just 10 seconds. This is because they operate on the 60-GHz frequency band, which can accommodate more data than conventional Wi-Fi, which runs on the already crowded 2.4-GHz and 5.0-GHz bands.

Another strength of WiGig is less interference.

Unlike conventional Wi-Fi, which can face lag because such home appliances as microwave ovens and cordless phones run on the same frequency, the 60-GHz band has been used primarily for special activities such as astronomical observation, which essentially makes interference with devices in homes highly unlikely.

The ministry hopes to use WiGig to wow the crowds with 4K and 8K videos during the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, which it views as a “golden opportunity to promote Japan’s advancing information and communication technology.”

The ministry expects WiGig-enabled products to emerge this year because the Wi-Fi Alliance, the U.S.-based industry association that owns the Wi-Fi trademark is slated to begin certifying them this year.

But WiGig is not a perfect replacement for Wi-Fi.

Among its drawbacks are its short range of about 10 meters — which means it can cover just a single room — and its weak penetration ability, which results in connections being easily blocked by walls or ceilings.

These limit WiGig’s practical uses to downloading large 4K/8K video files or streaming high-resolution movies at home.

“We consider WiGig as something to complement the speed of conventional Wi-Fi rather than something to replace it,” Takinami said.

Panasonic hopes to make WiGig technology widely available by 2018, he said.

Another next-generation standard under development is Wi-Fi HaLow, which is focused on increasing range and reducing power consumption.

The Wi-Fi Alliance believes that Wi-Fi HaLow, in conjunction with IoT, will play a key role in creating an Internet-connectivity infrastructure.

Although Wi-Fi HaLow, which runs frequencies below 1 GHz, is slower than WiGig, its strength lies in its range, which is nearly twice that of standard Wi-Fi, and its ability to penetrate walls and other physical barriers.

It also requires less power to operate than conventional Wi-Fi, which means it can be used by small, battery-operated devices, Wi-Fi Alliance President and CEO Edgar Figueroa says on the alliance’s website.

Because it is suited for so-called smart homes, Internet-connected cars and digital health devices, which often require stable, constant connections and low energy consumption, Wi-Fi HaLow is being trumpeted as a key cog in the infrastructure plans being concocted for “smart cities.”

Yet another wireless networking technology is promising speeds as much as 100 times faster than Wi-Fi by making use of LED lights equipped with microchips.

Unlike Wi-Fi, which is based on radio waves, Li-Fi, short for light fidelity, operates in the spectrums of visible light, allowing data transmission speeds far faster than radio, according to Harald Haas, a University of Edinburgh professor who introduced the idea at a TED Talk in 2011.

Li-Fi is literally as fast as lightning — so fast that one can “download the equivalent of 23 DVDs in one second,” Suat Topsu, founder and head of French Li-Fi devices developer Oledcomm, told AFP last month.

Although Li-Fi is not yet in widespread use, the technology is reportedly moving forward, with compatible devices appearing at various technology shows.

The improvement of wireless networking technologies will help create an Internet-driven society that people can benefit from without necessarily even being conscious of its existence, Panasonic’s Takinami said.

“It could be something like tap water — people can enjoy the connection anytime with the necessary speed they need,” he said.

This section, appearing on the second Monday of each month, features new technologies that are still under research and development but expected to hit the market in coming years.