Wilocity announced today it will partner with Marvell to deliver modules that use the startup’s 60 GHz chips along with Marvell’s Wi-Fi silicon. It previously announced a similar deal using 2×2 802.11n chips on half-sized mini-PCI Express cards from Qualcomm’s Atheros division.
In addition, two other startups—Beam Networks and Peraso Technologies—said they will announce their 60 GHz chips within the next six to nine months. All the chips are based on the IEEE 802.11ad standard promoted by the WiGig Alliance created in 2009.
Chip makers face several challenges creating a broad market for the new 60 GHz components. They have to convince multiple OEMs to adopt the chips to establish a value proposition for end users. But OEMs are focused on a transition from today’s mainstream 802.11n products to the new 802.11ac standard which promises data rates of a Gbit/s at 5 GHz.
Wilocity expects PC makers will announce before the end of the year notebooks and bundled docking stations with the Wi-Fi modules from Qualcomm. The Wilocity 60 GHz chips in the modules will enable a new feature of wireless docking.
Next Wilocity will turn its efforts to getting the chips designed into peripherals like external hard drives, and eventually access points, mainly leveraging its new collaboration with Marvell which is strong in both sectors.
Both Marvell and Qualcomm took stakes of less than ten percent of Wilocity’s equity as part of the partnerships. The deals with the big chip makers provide the startup leverage convincing OEMs to use the new WiGig technology to enable new user scenarios.
“There is market making we need to do here,” said Mark Grodzinsky, vice president of marketing of Wilocity.
“The easiest way to get [60 GHz] to market is going into the [notebook] docking station because the PC maker can bundle [the dock],” Grodzinsky said. “Users won’t spend more money on a high performance wireless upgrade [for notebooks] if there is nothing to connect to,” he added.
Long term, Wilocity and other WiGig Alliance members hope the 60 GHz technology becomes a mainstream standard supported in all Wi-Fi products.
So far the alliance has been too “focused on personal-area apps and video links rather than IP-based WLANs,” said Craig Mathias, principal of market watcher Farpoint Group. Nevertheless “the potential for 60 GHz in WLANs is quite good,” he said.
Products based on the 5 GHz 802.11ac standard just now coming to market may have difficulty achieving their promise of Gbit/s data rates because they need 80 and even 160 GHz channels. Thus “the door for 60 GHz in WLANs is wide open [at least] for the power-user segment, but I’m not sure the industry wants to walk through it at present,” Mathias said.
Indeed, the “.11ac standard took a lot of people’s attention this year—it’s seen as a .11n replacement,” said Grodzinsky. “Now people are looking at what else is interesting and finding the .11ac boost is nice and necessary but this [60 GHz technology] is the real game changer,” he said.
At least five other startups are working on WiGig products including Beam Networks (Rehovot, Israel); Blu-Wireless Technology (Bristol, U.K.); Nitero (Austin); Peraso Technologies (Toronto); and Tensorcom (Carlsbad, CA).
Peraso plans to announce a product in the first quarter targeting mobile systems, said chief executive Ron Glibbery, who declined to give more details. For its part, Beam Networks expects to discuss a 60 GHz transceiver before the end of the year, said a company spokeswoman.
Wilocity previously described its initial chip as a 65nm device named Marlin that consumes about 2W average power to deliver up to 3.5 Gbits/s of data. It is working on a second-generation chip called Sparrow it hopes will ship by the end of 2013 capable of 2.5 Gbits/s data rates while consuming 500 milliwatts of power, suitable for smartphones and tablets.
Market watcher Forward Concepts estimates as many as 1.3 billion handsets will support Wi-Fi in 2016, up from 508 million in 2011. “The vast majority are 802.11n, and we expect 802.11ac [the 5 GHz standard] to creep in [starting mid-2013], becoming dominant at over 50 percent by about 2016,” said principal Will Strauss.
So far, the WiGig Alliance has held two plugfests where vendors tested interoperability of their devices and plans more starting in November. Ten companies participated in the most recent event in late June where the full system (MAC, PHY and radio) was tested for the first time.
The 60 GHz technology appears to be set to offer unique value.
The chips could drive data rates as fast as 4.6 Gbits/s at 2.5W, said Grodzinsky. That’s far above both the 450 Mbit/s rates of today’s .11n chips and the roughly Gbit/s rates of the .11ac chips now appearing. At sub-watt rates needed for smartphones, 60 GHz promises rates up to 2.3 Gbits/s, again far above .11n and .11ac at roughly 150 and 433 Mbits/s, respectively.
Grodzinsky said costs of the 60 GHz solutions are roughly in line with where the .11n generation started before it hit high volumes. At the 65nm node, the Wilocity implementation requires separate baseband and radio chips, including a 16-element active antenna module for the RF portion.
Startup SiBeam, acquired in early 2011 by Silicon Image, started the 60 GHz push with a module aimed at set-top boxes and flat-screen TVs it first described in 2007. The WiGig partners shifted the field, creating new specifications now baked into the IEEE standard that Silicon Image said it will support.
The IEEE standard is going through the final formalities of ratification but is not expected to change. Formal interoperability tests for the WiGig spec are expected to be in place by the end of the year.
Several shoes have yet to fall. Three of the largest Wi-Fi chip suppliers—Broadcom, Intel and Mediatek—have yet to reveal their plans for 60 GHz.