4 reasons why 4K video isn’t the only reason 802.11ad WiGig® will influence which phone you get next

Wi-Fi has been a core part of the smartphone since the beginning, with the iPhone (and even palm pilots if you want to still acknowledge their existence) including the standard. But improvements in Wi-Fi standards is matched only by the improvements of mobile phones.

Back in 2007, Wi-Fi was seen as an add-on for many routers and if it was included it would typically be 802.11g, which delivered maximum speeds of 54 Mbps over its 20 MHz of bandwidth. And utilising the 2.4 GHz spectrum it was prone to interference – be it from Bluetooth or microwave ovens.

Today’s standard Wi-Fi (802.11ac) has 80 MHz of bandwidth (although 160 MHz is possible), which is great for transferring audio and even HD video around the home, but the move to ever higher resolution screens in mobile phones is happening and this means another huge leap in transmission speeds is required. Hence the move towards WiGig (802.11ad) and its 7 GHz of bandwidth.

If you look at Tech Radar’s list of the best mobile phones money can buy, all of the top three and four of the top five (during June 2016) have used 1440 x 2560 screens, which means 78% more pixels per frame than true HD. And this is set to increase further. Indeed, the only handset in TechRadar’s top 5 to offer just an HD screen (1080 x 1920) is the Sony Xperia Z5, but Sony has released a premium version with an 3840 x 2160 screen, or 4X the resolution of HD.

Furthermore, people are already searching for 4K on handsets, with Google trends data showing a marked increase in queries for 4k handsets over the past 12 months – so this technology is also likely to hit the top end handsets soon.

The problem with 4K

Content. As we’ve written previously, the ability to shoot in 4K isn’t the issue. Most films do it, even Netflix does it – with House of Cards series 2 being streamed in 4K since February 2014. The issue is how do you access it.

The TV is no longer the only screen. And even if it were, the DVD (Blu-Ray) is no longer the main way we watch films. Netflix, Amazon, Google, Apple, BBC iPlayer, Hulu… have all seen to it that we stream content instead. Neilsen’s December 2014 Total Audience Report, for example, states that approximately 2.6 million households in the US are now watching online only.

But given that Netflix has also said that to stream it you’d need a stable download speed of 15.6 Mbps, (and also clarifying that those with a 50Mbps connection would be “fine”) highlights that streaming from the web will be the exception, since in all bar two countries, South Korea and Hong Kong, the mean speeds are below Netflix’s minimum.

In short, 4K films will therefore (for now) need to be downloaded to, and stored on a home-hub server and transmitted via next generation Wi-Fi to the various devices.

What is WiGig

Unlike 802.11ac (and a,b,g,n), WiGig is a specific-use Wi-Fi standard, developed to enable very-high-speed data transfers by using the 60 GHz band, particularly video transfer, for example for 4K video from a server (or a mobile device) to the TV… and vice versa; and also for mobile backhaul applications.

It typically affords 7 GHz, but varies by region so in Europe it has 9 GHz and in China just 5 GHz. Transmission speeds are very high, with a 60 GB 4K UHD movie transferring in 2.3 minutes (source: Strategy Analytic tests), and a typical 5 GB HD movie in 12.1 seconds.

Content type Size 802.11ad transfer time (@4.7 Gbps)
4K UHD movie 60 GB 2.3 minutes
HD movie 5 GB 12.1 seconds
4K movie trailer 1.2 GB 3.0 seconds

Figure 2: Estimated file transfer times for typical content using 802.11ad, abridged from Strategy Analytics’ 802.11ad report, February 2016

Typical range is 10m and due to the nature of propagation at 60 GHz signals do not penetrate walls.   Hence WiGig can be considered as a wireless gigabit connectivity interface for in room (4k or HD) video streaming and content synchronisation as shown in Figure 2.

It also comes with an additional benefit – battery consumption. One of the big issues in watching films on a mobile is the battery life. And the radio is (after the screen) typically the biggest consumer of power. Using a more powerful transmission standard may increase the power while transferring, but it also cuts the time. Using the above example of a 60 GB film, the effect on the battery from transferring a 60 GB film over WiGig would be approximately 1-2% assuming a typical 1200mAh battery. Compare this with a standard 802.11n Wi-Fi transfer (up to 100 Mbps) and transfer times of up to 2 hours wouldn’t be unusual for a single 60 GB movie, which would use 20% of the battery.  By this measure WiGig is around 15x power efficient for content synchronisation that a typical WiFi connection today.

WiGig adoption

The first 802.11ad Wi-Fi chips have begun shipping and are already in a small number of handsets. Strategy Analytics predicts the standard will be seen in the premium end of mobiles and tablets later this year, with it included in 10 per cent of mobile handsets, laptops, media players and tablets by the end of 2020.

The standard is in its early phases of growth, but as Strategy Analytics says: “[assuming] Intel pushes this [WiGig docking station] application successfully, volumes could reach many tens of millions of units per year in a high proportion of dockable PC devices.” The report also highlights that “premium-tier smartphones and tablets will ship with 802.11ad starting in 2016” and that “Apple’s adoption… will surely have a big impact on the market.”

4 reasons why WiGig is going to change how you use your phone

802.11ad WiGig is more than a cable replacement and will play a key role in enabling new functionality for mobile handsets. Here are 4 ways we predict it will change the way you use your phone:

1. Video on demand – as you sprint for the train

Here in the UK, the mean house price in London is now over £500,000 and growing at 14% per year. Similar trends are seen in Paris, New York, Hong Kong and Sydney, in fact all around the world. This means that people are having to live further from their work and commutes are getting longer.

Commuters in the majority of megacities (with a handful of exceptions, notably LA and Jakarta) are also heavily reliant on public transport – and consequently there is a growing demand for content on the phone and soon this will need to be 4K.

Obviously you can’t just stream a 4K film to the handset over 4G – especially as the commute will often be from either rural locations or on underground networks. And as already mentioned, few countries have the networks to just let you download one via the home’s broadband connection while rushing out the door.

The way around this is Push VoD. As the name suggests, this is a service that uses the handset’s hard drive to push a large quantity of media over WiGig onto a handset overnight, with content chosen automatically for download based on the same ‘previously-watched’ profiling algorithms used by Netflix and Amazon etc.

Free content can then be watched automatically, and premium content can be paid for and unlocked via an SMS.

2. Date night movies and airport rentals

According to Strategy Analytics, one of the likely trends that will re-emerge this year is going out to rent a film. This time, however, using a vending machine on a high street, in a petrol station or on a subway platform, to transfer the 4K film in a couple of minutes.

Again, high speed transfer is essential to this process as people will not wait more than a couple of minutes for this transfer. And therefore WiGig will be key in its success.

In fact, these have been out for a little while and you’re most likely to have seen them at airports – put in so you can buy and download a film before a flight. But the issue has been transfer times via 802.11n or ac Wi-Fi, and typically you’d risk missing your flight if you hung around to receive the download. Panasonic recently (Feb 2016) demonstrated how a WiGig kiosk download service wold work to passengers passing through Narita Airport in Japan http://news.panasonic.com/global/topics/2016/44877.html

With this early example of a WiGig 802.11ad Wi-Fi-enabled kiosk fully in mind, Strategy Analytics predicts WiGig film kiosks will start to appear later this year.

As these become more commonplace you will be able to rent a film, watch it on the handset or take it home and stream it to the big TV – again over 802.11ad.

3. In-flight entertainment

The trend of BYOD (bring your own device) for in-flight movies is on the rise. In fact, results of a recent survey published by aircraft connectivity provider Sitaonair suggests that it is now more common for people to watch the airline’s films on their own device than on the seat-back screens.

And here we have the same issues, plus one additional consideration. From the passenger’s side, the phone’s battery must last throughout the flight, so transfer times need to be as short as possible. But from the aircraft IT system’s point of view, there is also a need to minimise the number of people on a network at any given time and this also means very fast transfers of content  to just 1 or two people at a time. 380 people streaming films at any given time will cause even the best networks to fall.

Again, the large bandwidth afforded by WiGig will play a key role here and several suppliers of IFE equipment to the airline industry are actively considering this technology for in-cabin IFE applications.

4. In car transfers

It’s not just video – in-car entertainment systems are set to become increasingly reliant on the phone – both for audio for the driver and video for the seat-back screens.

Bluetooth can manage for audio but an instant transfer of the handset’s entire media library via WiGig saves the battery and lets the phone manage more important tasks like the equally battery-intensive GPS and navigation functions.
In summary, WiGig represents a quantum leap in wireless connectivity for smartphones and tablets and consumers can expect to see WiGig certified products reach the retail outlets during the latter part of 2016.