SAN JOSE, Calif. – The top technologist of Qualcomm Atheros scoped out the future of Wi-Fi and gave comments on the outlook for Windows 8 systems using ARM processors at a briefing here.
The emerging IEEE 802.11ac standard for delivering gigabit/speeds over 5 GHz represents the future of mainstream Wi-Fi, said William McFarland, vice president of technology for the Wi-Fi division of the cellular chip maker. The .11ad 60 GHz standard will play a complementary but more limited role, and beyond that the future is unclear, he said.
"There are not too many [wireless design tools] left on the table" beyond what the .11ac and .11ad standards are adopting, McFarland said. "We haven't implemented multiple-access OFDMA or multi-user uplink yet, but that's very difficult to do," he added.
Sample chips for the 5 GHz 802.11ac and the 60 GHz 802.11ad standards should emerge late this year with systems products following late next year.
The .11ac standard adopts multiuser MIMO and 256 QAM over 5 GHz. The techniques help it deliver Gbit/s speeds over existing Wi-Fi ranges when using 80 MHz of bandwidth and at least three antennas.
"It will be a big splash--we will make it a big splash," said McFarland.
The 60 GHz .11ad standard could support up to 7 Gbits/s thanks to even wider channels, but will be limited to use within a room due to difficulty of propagating the 60 GHz signals.
The .11ac products will eventually replace .11n products. The 60 GHz products will open up new applications such as high-speed video transfers within a room, he said.
"We feel the two systems are quite different and not really competitive with each other," he added. Ultimately, many modules will support both standards, he said.
At ISSCC in January, engineers debated the relative merits of the 5 and 60 GHz approaches. Some noted China does not have the 80 MHz bands at 5 GHz needed to deliver the .11ac Gbit/s rates.
Separately, McFarland said Qualcomm is ahead of the pack of companies supporting Microsoft's Windows 8 on ARM processors.
The company created "a substantial team" to support Windows 8 on its Snapdragon processors and "is very much in the lead for getting Windows 8 running on top of ARM," McFarland said. "One of the first platforms for big Windows on ARM will be Snapdragon," he said.
Microsoft is said to be working on four versions of Windows 8--one each for the x86, Snapdragon, Nvidia's Tegra and Texas Instruments' Omap processor. The initial ARM-based systems are expected to be mainly tablets, although some may deliver notebooks as well.
Qualcomm "wants to supply all the silicon in one of those platforms over time even the display," said McFarland, pointing to the company's Mirasol group.
"Today the focus is just getting out a basic offering, but we are working on getting this bundle put together in a nicer way," McFarland said. "Once that’s in control, we can look more broadly at ways to differentiate platforms," he added.
Atheros has long been supplying Wi-Fi chips to PC makers, a new customer base for the cellular chip maker.