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Wireless Infrastructure Newsletter

WiFi hits new speeds, but can Ethernet cope? October 21 2014

By Caroline Gabriel, Research Director, Maravedis-Rethink

The latest R&D project in 60GHz spectrum comes from Samsung, which can transfer a 1Gbyte movie in three seconds. However, as the speed wars heat up in WiFi, all these data rates are going to need backhaul support, an issue Broadcom and others are seeking to address through new Ethernet standards.

The race to break speed records in WiFi is almost as intense as it is in cellular, and Samsung is a prominent name in both. The Korean firm has been demonstrating ‘5G’ prototypes hitting gigabit speeds, but WiFi can support even higher data rates, and the company says it has achieved up to tenfold increase on current speeds.

In both WiFi and cellular R&D, the key to blistering speeds is usually the combination of techniques such as advanced MIMO, with high frequency spectrum. Samsung says it has developed a version of WiGig (the WiFi-like standard for the 60GHz band) which boosts the current maximum theoretical data rate for a consumer device fivefold – and in terms of real world average speeds, the gap is 10 times.

The prototype system enables a 1Gbyte movie to be transferred in under three seconds and uncompressed high definition video to be streamed in real time. Like other next generation WiFi efforts, Samsung says its technology removes the gap between theoretical and actual speeds, and of course it will hope that its breakthrough will give it an influential position in emerging standards, as well as differentiation for its own future products.

“Samsung has successfully overcome the barriers to the commercialization” of the 60GHz WiFi technology, claimed Kim Chang Yong, head of a Samsung R&D center, in a statement. “New and innovative changes await Samsung’s next generation devices, while new possibilities have been opened up for the future development of WiFi technology.”

Amid rising competition in its heartland smartphone business, Samsung is investing in R&D in many areas which could extend its business model, including software and media platforms, enterprise platforms and cutting edge infrastructure for ‘5G’, which is expected to include technologies derived both from LTE and WiFi. The first products to be targeted with 60GHz WiFi are likely to be audiovisual home and mobile media devices, telecoms infrastructure and medical systems, said Samsung.

Samsung’s rivals are all working on enhancing WiFi for higher speed and better quality of experience in future. For instance, Huawei recently demonstrated 10Gbps connections in conventional 5GHz spectrum.

However, the faster WiFi gets, the more challenging its backhaul issues will be. With that in mind, Broadcom, HP and Cisco are drumming up interest in dramatically speeding up gigabit Ethernet, to keep up with the pace of change in WiFi.

The two giants claim there is a growing need for standard physical layers running at 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps, to fit between the current Gigabit Ethernet standard and the high end 10Gbps platform. The standard would cover ranges of 100 meters over Cat E twisted pair cabling, so that changes to cable infrastructure would not be required as they would for 10Gbps and above.

The main reason is the rapid increase in the speed of WiFi. Enterprise and hotspot WLANs are adopting the latest 802.11ac iteration, and its gigabit speeds are threatening to drown the access points’ wired Ethernet backhaul links.

The two companies are proposing the formation of a study group within the IEEE 802 effort, focused on a Next Generation Enterprise Access Base-T PHY. This will get its first hearing at the IEEE 802 plenary in San Antonio, Texas on November 3-6. The initiators of the would-be study group are Yong Kim, senior technical director at Broadcom, and David Law of Hewlett-Packard, chair of the 802.3 working group, and Cisco has also lent its support.

They say in their invitation: “This is a call for interest to initiate a Study Group to explore the need for one or more new Ethernet speed(s) between 1Gbps and 10Gbps over balanced twisted pair cabling. We believe there is a market need, driven by IEEE 802.11ac wireless access points, to support higher than 1Gbps Ethernet rates at a 100m reach. Higher performance end devices like desktop and laptop PCs, as well as other enterprise applications for Ethernet, will also benefit from the new data rates provided by this work.”

John D'Ambrosia, a Dell fellow and veteran of Ethernet standards efforts, told EETimes there was significant interest and the study group was likely to be approved. "I wouldn't be surprised to see a dual-rate effort come out of this," he commented.

There is also work going on far higher up the Ethernet performance scale, in the area which feeds into Carrier Ethernet and mobile backhaul platforms. A de facto standards alliance was formed in July to look at 25G and 50G Ethernet, but the IEEE quickly responded with its own study group, focused on the same data rates, a few days later. These different efforts highlight the diversity of applications for Ethernet these days, requiring a faster development cycle and a wider variety of speeds. "People have removed the barriers of traditional 10x Ethernet upgrades,” said d’Ambrosia.

Meanwhile, Ethernet PHY specialist Aquantia is getting in early, and in time-honoured fashion seeking to create a technology in advance of an IEEE standards effort, which could then form the basis for that standard. Its new AQrate range supports 2.5G and 5G rates over 100m of Cat E twisted pair cable. The 28nm parts are based on Aquantia's existing 10G Ethernet PHY, which is in production and work in conjunction with FPGAs and IP from Xilinx.

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