Wireless Video & High Speed Interconnect – The push for a wireless equivalent of Thunderbolt

Posted: August 10, 2011 in Apple, Qualcomm, Transparency, wireless power
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If you have followed my blog from its inception you know I feel the phone will become your primary computer. That feeling continues to grow stronger. The more difficult issue is discerning just what path this will take. I have mentioned before that companies can fail by jumping to the final solution and not realizing that change often progresses along a jagged path. My ultimate dream is a device that connects to the proper interface in a transparent fashion.

Right now we have WiFi and Bluetooth. Apple lets AirPlay ride on WiFi. This gives some support for video transfer from an iPad to a TV but requires an Apple TV device to make it happen. However, none of this handles the high bandwidth needed to make the user interface, and the the high definition video that goes with it, work without compromise. Enter standards groups to the rescue; unfortunately too many groups.

A first stab at this came with wireless USB. This is an ultra wideband technology that allows up to 480Mbs speed but only at a range of 3 meters. This is inadequate for 1080p 60 Hz video much less 3D and higher resolutions. This technology has gotten very little traction.

The early leader was WHDI (Wireless Home Digital Interface) consortium. However, the WirelessHD Consortium has an impressive list of supporters. Next comes the Wireless Gigabit Alliance or WiGig. They also have some big players behind them including some of the same people in WirelessHD. It’s all very confusing.

Recall what I said about major vs. minor trends. This has signs of being a major trend. But wait, it doesn’t “feel” that way. People aren’t scrambling to get wireless video hardware. That’s going to change. There is a lot in the works and it will take time to gel but it will gel.

Who am I betting on? Well, I’ll start with an interesting fact. Of particular interest here is the adoption of support for wireless DisplayPort by WiGig. Not mentioned on the WiGig website is an important name – Apple. Recall that Apple is the big force behind DisplayPort. A second force pushing WiGig is the movement by companies like Panasonic to take WiGig mobile. WIDI is mobile capable but has more challenges extending its speed and flexibility. Another related major announcement is the Qualcomm Atheros AR9004TB chip for WiGig. However, this looks suited for laptops and docking stations and not phones. It will compete with solutions for WirelessHD such as the SiI6320/SiI6310 WirelessHD® HRTX Chipset.

How does this play out? The Qualcomm chip shows the way to docking stations for tablets and phones. These may have some success but the need is for a more embedded solution. That will start with laptops which have the luxury of more board space and larger batteries. However, it will move into phones once the power issue is solved. This won’t be the end. So far I have been discussing wireless video. True transparency will require something more general. For that I expect something like wPCIe from Wilocity to allow full connectivity. Initially wPCIe will allow laptops to wirelessly dock with peripherals. Longer term, this too will migrate into the tablet and the phone. At that point your phone will wirelessly dock with external hard drives, displays, and pretty much anything else you would hook to a desktop.  wPCIe is based on the WiGig standard so it will be a quick extension to WiGig wireless video. That also means that range will be adequate to allow your phone or laptop to be several meters away from the other end of the wirless link.

Currently, none of this matches the speed of Thunderbolt but it may be close enough. WirelessHD has higher speeds already defined and I expect WiGig to follow. Expect WiGig to look a lot like wireless Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt is basically DisplayPort and PCI Express (PCIe). WiDig will also include DisplayPort and PCIe. For true speed freaks, a hard wired connection will always be the best. Thunderbolt will move to 100Gbs when the move is made from copper to fiber. By then WiGig and WirelessHD will just be matching copper connected Thunderbolt in performance.

There’s a lot more at play here that makes it difficult to predict the winner. WIDI works at lower frequencies and can connect through walls. WirelessHD and WiGig are strictly line of sight. However, some of the claims for future versions of WIDI are suspect since they involve very high data rates relative to available frequency bandwidth. WiGig has the ability to move from a WiFi connection to a WiGig connection in a transparent fashion. WIDI is mobile capable now since it rides on older WiFi technology. I am uncertain when a low power WiGig or WirelessHD chip will be available.

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