Wi-Fi is about to get much, much faster. The Wi-Fi Alliance is now beginning to certify smartphones, laptops, routers, and other devices that include a super-fast Wi-Fi standard called WiGig, which nearly doubles Wi-Fi’s current top speed. The Alliance says it’ll be in “marquee” smartphones and laptops next year.
WiGig only works over a short range — about 33 feet (or 10 meters), according to the Wi-Fi Alliance. That means even once you get a router and a phone or laptop that support it, you’ll probably only get those speeds within the room the router is located in. “We talk about it as an in-room technology,” says Kevin Robinson, who is VP of marketing at the Wi-Fi Alliance.
That’s a big limitation for WiGig, but it still opens up a lot of possibilities — perhaps the most exciting of which is for VR. Right now, if you want to use a virtual-reality headset with a game console or PC, it needs to be tethered using a series of thick cables because current wireless standards just aren’t fast enough. That constrains movement and limits how immersed you can be in a VR experience.
WiGig, on the other hand, should be fast enough to support VR. The Wi-Fi Alliance also suggests its high speeds will be useful for augmented reality, 4K video, and streaming phone and laptop displays to desktop monitors.
The technology could also be used out of the home by internet providers or public access points. WiGig relies on the same millimeter wave frequencies that Alphabet’s Access (formerly Google Fiber) and Starry, an internet startup from the founder of Aereo, are looking into using to deliver high-speed internet from streets to homes without using cables. Robinson also says WiGig could find applications in sports stadiums and other large venues.
In addition to WiGig, there’s one other wonky term you’ll want to get used to: 802.11ad. That’s the new wireless standard that includes support for WiGig. Most modern phones, laptops, and routers support 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which tops out (in theory) at speeds of 4.5 Gbps, while these forthcoming 802.11ad devices are (theoretically) supposed to reach speeds of 8 Gbps.
We’re already starting to see the first of these 802.11ad devices hit the market — some routers supporting it were announced earlier this month.
WiGig itself isn’t brand new — it’s been used here and there over the past few years, and, as those routers illustrate, is already on the market in some key products. But what’s happening today, with the announcement of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s certification program, is essentially the starting gun for the deployment of WiGig. Major members of the tech industry, who make up the Alliance, have all agreed that it’s time to move forward with WiGig. Over the next few years, we should see that happen.