Networking giant Cisco and 60GHz 802.11ad Wi-Fi pioneer Wilocity have announced a partnership to collaborate on "new network topologies and a new class of wireless solutions" based on Wilocity's 5Gb/sec wireless technology.
The collaboration, announced Wednesday, comes after Cisco kicked in a seven-figure investment in Wilocity as part of a $35m fourth funding round reported by Forbes this Monday that increased Wilocity's total amount raised to date to $105m.
"We really see this as being the next major step forward after dot-eleven ac," Bob Friday, CTO for Cisco's enterprise networking group, told The Reg. "When you look at the performance, where we've gone with wireless networking from dot-eleven g, dot-eleven n, dot-eleven ac – dot-eleven ad looks to be that next logical step right now, moving performance and capacity to the next major level.
The 802.11ad kit not only increases throughput, but also carrying capacity – an improvement devoutly to be wished by anyone who has tried to get wireless connectivity in a crowded convention center or college lecture hall.
As Wilocity cofounder and CEO Tal Tamir told us, "You get additional performance because you have high bandwidth – a lot of spectral real estate that you can use. You get additional capacity because you can squeeze in many, many radios and antennas into a very small space."
All those radios and antennas enable the point-to-point beam-forming capability of Wilocity's tech, with multiple separate connections sharing the same 60GHz band. "You can create this almost-perfect separation using beam forming," Tamir said, "and that gives you isolation from other links. So you get the performance and the additional capacity, both of them couple up to give you two orders of magnitude additional capacity for dense networks."
Friday explained the advantages of the small size of antennas needed for 60GHz transmission and reception. "With the physics of 60 gigahertz we can naturally get more antennas into those beam forming structures," he said. With more antennas, the opportunities for beam forming and the reliability of that beam forming increases.
Wilocity now packs 32 tiny antennas into a space that Tamir calls "way smaller than a single Wi-Fi antenna," and he explained that there's no reason why they couldn't double that number to 64 "when needed."
One primary disadvantage of 60GHz 802.11ad signals, however, is that they're easily blocked by solid objects such as walls or people. Also, beam forming, as its name suggests, is unidirectional as opposed to other forms of Wi-Fi, which are omnidirectional.
That's another area in which all those antennas can help. Not only can they renegotiate connections in a 360° field, but they can bounce a signal off such objects as ceilings, floors, cubicle walls, and the like, and re-establish a connection with no noticable break.
"We change the beam direction on a millisecond accuracy," Tamir said. Your Reg reporter can attest to this, having had to essentially wrap himself around an earlier Wilocity system before the signal was broken – and that was before the company had upgraded their chips to the current 360° capability.
"Those 32 antennas will basically find the best optimal path," Friday said. "If you're sitting in your cube and you don't have a perfect line of sight, the system will figure out what is the best combination of 32 antennas to get you connected." The best bounce-path, as it were.
Walls, however, remain an obstacle to a 60GHz signal – and that's why the Wilocity technologies on which Cisco is collaborating in product research and development are "tri-band Wi-Fi solutions" that include not only the 802.11ad capability in the 60GHz band, but also 802.11a/n/ac in the 5GHz band and 802.11b/g/n in the 2.4GHz band.
Switchover among the different bands is "completely seamless," Tamir promises, so that if you're copying a file, for example, the copying will not be interrupted. "The only thing you will notice when you switch between the bands," he said, "is that the performance changes. Obviously."
Cisco, Friday said, is currently working with Wilocity on "evolving the technology for network use cases," as well as working on market adoption. Wednesday's announcement contained no product announcement, and Friday wouldn't be drawn out as to when any such announcement might be made.
Tamir, however, after pointing out that Wilocity 802.11ad tech has appeared in Dell notebooks and that more announcements will be made around the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this coming January, said, "We started in notebooks and next year you should see more on the mobile side and the networking side" – mobile meaning tablets and smartphones
Those mobile client-side chips can transfer 5Gb/sec with no hit to battery life, Tamir said. In fact, he told us, those chips consumer less power than 802.11ac does today.
Tamir is understandably chuffed with the Cisco collaboration. "I'm very proud to say," he told us, "that we've got the leaders from both sides of the link, right? We partnered with Qualcomm and Marvel to promote and productize the client side, and now we have Cisco on the network side."
Wilocity has a couple of worth-watching demo videos on its YouTube channel. Be forewarned about the hyper-dramatic soundtrack on the "Dense Network Experiment" clip, however, but do check out the spinning tablet video for a demonstration of how seamlessly their system can re-establish its beam-formed connections. ®