Times I Wished I had 5G WiFi and 4G LTE

I don’t usually work in a coffee shop – I don’t like not being able to charge my laptop, and my “home office” is the living room couch, with multiple computers strewn in front of me while I watch sports on TV – but on a recent nice and sunny day, I was convinced to go to one. Unfortunately, technical difficulties abounded. I waited in line, bought a drink and asked for the Wi-Fi password. I spent a few minutes trying to log in to various access points with no success – it turned out that my (brand new) machine could not see the coffee shop’s router.

Luckily, all was not lost. I fired up “Mobile Hotspot” on my LTE phone and, in less than a minute, connected my laptop to the internet using the phone’s software-based “Soft AP.”  The only downside? My phone only lets me run “Mobile Hotspot” on Channel 6 in the noisy 2.4 GHz band – I’m sure that’s to prevent some crazy harmonic of the LTE phone transmitter from interacting with the Wi-Fi chip in the phone, but it was certainly inconvenient where I was sitting because there were at least a half-dozen access points set to Channel 6. In fact, I’m pretty sure Channel 6 is the most commonly-used Wi-Fi channel in the United States. So my data rates were in the range of 10 Megabits per second – probably better than I would have had if I had been able to connect to the coffee shop Wi-Fi, but not that great.

You probably know where I’m going: this is one of those times I wish I had 5G WiFi to go with my 4G LTE phone. When I use the internet directly on my phone, I’ve been able to get upwards of 25 Mbps in some places using first-generation LTE. If I had 5G WiFi, I’d have a lot more bandwidth to work with and fewer interferers, so I could get my full LTE data rate on my PC. And future LTE networks will likely offer significantly higher data rates, way more than I got at home with DSL and more than I can get with a cable modem. (I’ll never be able to get fiber to my house, so those are my choices.) In fact, with LTE routers becoming more common, they might become an alternative to cable modems – they take a matter of minutes to set up rather than having to wait for days or weeks for someone to come to your house to install the system!

Times I Wished I had 5G WiFi: Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, despite being immersed in technology all day long, I’m actually a bit of a Luddite. Case in point: I needed to transfer 3 GB of data between two of the (seven) computers in my house.

For data transfers like this, I could use a USB flash drive, but I’m always lending them out or losing them, so I couldn’t find any. So I moved on to the next option: an external USB hard drive that I use to backup my data.  It’s fairly slow, so it might have taken half an hour to copy from the first PC to it, and then another half hour to copy to the second machine from the drive. That’s the best case. The much worse case is what actually happened: the source machine is old and some of its USB ports don’t work. When I plugged the drive in, the PC couldn’t recognize the hard drive partition where I could store the data.

So then I had a brilliant idea: transfer over Wi-Fi. All it took to get started was me figuring out how to share a folder on the destination machine. The new machine supports peer-to-peer Wi-Fi, but the old one doesn’t seem to, so the data transfer had to go through my 802.11g router (I told you I was a Luddite.) After just four hours, the transfer was complete, for an average data rate of…less than 3 Mbps.

That’s just sad. My PCs were both close to the router, so that wouldn’t have slowed them down. But with two machines not optimized for data transfer and five other devices (plus the microwave oven) competing for the same channel on my router, the results were awful.

Here’s where I wish I had 5G WiFi. Not only would the data transfer have been faster – both because it would be peer-to-peer and a higher data rate – but it would have been more obvious how to do it. What do I mean? You often can’t tell what the value of a particular technology is before it’s launched – ten years ago, I didn’t even see the point of Wi-Fi. I mean, who needs Wi-Fi when you can just pull hundreds of feet of cable through your walls and ceiling and connect your desktop into an ethernet wall socket? So once you have 5G WiFi-enabled machines, your operating system will support wireless data transfer in a much more obvious way than it does today. And I think that’s true of many 5G WiFi features – we can’t imagine them yet, but once the technology is available, people will figure out all kinds of new and interesting things to do with it.

5G WiFi – Standard of Standards

One of our readers asked, “Would my 5G WiFi device work with my other Wi-Fi devices? Also, will my 5G WiFi router work with other devices that implement 802.11ac?”

The answer to both questions is YES.

5G WiFi is a holistic wireless experience. It not only provides the user with the speeds and reliability of 802.11ac, but is entirely backward compatible with existing Wi-Fi devices. As an example, today’s smartphones that predominantly use 802.11n Wi-Fi will be able to communicate with a 5G WiFi router seamlessly, but at 802.11n rates. Let us assume a home network with a 5G WiFi router, a 5G WiFi enabled PC, and an 802.11n smartphone. The 5G WiFi router is smart enough to talk to the 802.11n smartphones at lower speeds while communicating with the 5G WiFi PC at the faster 802.11ac rates.

Additionally, 5G WiFi will also be interoperable with devices from various semiconductor vendors. The industry has done well to define 802.11ac as a comprehensive and interoperable standard. This includes standardizing advanced protocols like beamforming that were left open-ended in the previous generation of Wi-Fi. Further, all 5G WiFi products will be compatible with the certification program that the Wi-Fi Alliance will launch in early 2013. This further attests to the interoperability of 5G WiFi products – when other vendors are ready with 802.11ac offerings, they will be interoperable with 5G WiFi products and vice versa. It is also worth noting that the draft standard that 5G WiFi solutions use is very stable and changes [if any] can be addressed easily with no impact on the consumers buying products.

The consumer can also be assured that the transition to 5G WiFi will be smooth unlike the 802.11n days. When 802.11n was launched, vendors implemented different flavors of the standard. As a result, there was market confusion post-launch about the capabilities of various products, and their ability to seamlessly interoperate. This time around, the industry has learned from the negative consumer experiences and has proactively worked to address them. For example, key features that are required for the speeds, range and reliability of 5G WiFi are prescribed clearly, and will be tested by the Wi-Fi Alliance for interoperability. Vendors themselves will be cautious this time around recognizing fully well that the consumer experience is key to the adoption of this next generation of Wi-Fi.

In summary, 5G WiFi will be the STANDARD OF STANDARDS – backward compatible, interoperable, and holistic. It will work.

Times I Wished I had 5G WiFi: Part I

This might seem implausible, but I think I’m a Luddite technologist – I have six computers, three personal audio players, two tablets, a supposedly wireless printer and an HDTV with more inputs than I could ever use…And yet I am an incredibly slow adopter of technology. Here’s a great example – a few years ago, I bought my mom a Slingplayer so that she could watch her TV when she was traveling. I didn’t have cable TV myself, but I put together a system she could use when she was visiting:

In case that’s not clear, my PC connects to the Slingplayer and streams video to my TV using a VGA-to-composite converter (which is sadly SD on my HDTV.) For all of the inputs on my HDTV, I didn’t have any that had the same sync rates as the PC I was using to generate video, and the PC was so old that I couldn’t successfully add an HDMI card to it. Of course, the system now needed a remote control, a role that was ably-filled by a wireless keyboard and mouse. As you may well imagine, everyone other than me found this system incredibly confusing and I basically had to come into the living room anytime anyone wanted to change the channel.  I finally gave in and got cable last year, and I now have a fairly standard setup with a set-top box connected to my TV, but no capability to stream video from my PC to the TV.

Here’s where I wish I had 5G WiFi. With 802.11ac expected to ship in the next generation of HDTVs, wireless routers and smartphones, my TV will have an interface that will allow me to access content from the outside world, whether my router is connected to the internet via a cable modem, fiber optic cable or even 4G LTE. (This nicely eliminates the PC from my setup.) And with seamless integration of 5G WiFi into all of these devices, my smartphone will also serve as a remote control – an obvious application, but not one that’s done poorly at the moment – or as a game controller. (Now my wireless keyboard and mouse are eliminated.)

Those are the simple and obvious applications – 5G WiFi eliminates the most-complicated parts of my Rube Goldberg A/V setup. But it also enables Wi-Fi Display from my smartphone – I can stream a movie or a video game from my phone directly to my TV. 5G WiFi has three times the throughput of my 802.11n wireless router, so I can stream high-quality video and do something else simultaneously with my phone – use the internet, stream audio, you name it.

As I mentioned in my last piece, I like to try to come up with technology that my mom would find useful. Not only would my mom find the 5G WiFi TV, smartphone remote and 5G WiFi Display really cool, she’d be really excited that it got rid of all of the clutter (keyboard, mouse, extra computer) that I had in my living room.

5G WiFi – a video interview

Rahul Patel gave a very detailed interview on 5G WiFi at CES. In this ten minute video, he talks about 5G WiFi, its benefits, its innovations, and also walks us through a demonstration of 5G WiFi. The 5G WiFi setup in the video shows more than 1 Gigabit per second of real throughputs.

So what do you think?