September 20, 2011, 1:05 PM — This is the second half of a two-part series on technology breakthroughs that have the potential to change computing. Last week, we looked at five chip-level innovations that will make electronic devices faster, more powerful, more flexible and less expensive to manufacture. This week, we explore advances in how we access the Net, how we power our devices and how we interact with them.
From over-the-air power to neural computer control, each of these technologies has the ability to fundamentally alter the digital landscape. Put them together with the circuit advances we discussed last week, and you get a revolution in the way computers and electronics are designed, manufactured and used.
Extreme wireless: Multi-gigabit Wi-Fi
As great as it is to be able to grab data out of thin air, Wi-Fi is basically 1990s technology that's been jazzed up several times. "We want to take Wi-Fi truly into the 21st century," says Ali Sadri, president and chairman of the Wireless Gigabit Alliance. This consortium of tech companies has developed a specification known as WiGig (download PDF) that supports wireless communications at multi-gigabit speeds.
"With the emphasis on high-definition video, usage of the Web is changing," notes Sadri, who is also marketing director for Intel's wireless group. "Unfortunately, Wi-Fi hasn't kept up. Faster is always better."
Wi-Fi depends on the IEEE's 802.11 family of standards. 802.11a equipment, introduced in 1999, operates on the 5GHz radio band, while later 802.11b and g devices use the crowded 2.4GHz band. The most current dual-band 802.11n gear can operate on either band. Each 802.11 update has increased Wi-Fi's speed incrementally.
WiGig adds the 60GHz transmission band to the mix. With much more available spectrum than the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, the 60GHz band allows significantly faster throughput. (See Network World's informative video "How 60GHz will affect Wi-Fi" by Farpoint Group analyst Craig Mathias for details.) WiGig can operate at up to 7Gbps, more than an order of magnitude faster than today's 802.11n Wi-Fi, which can operate at up to 600Mbps.