FAQ: What is 802.11ay wireless technology?

Emerging super Wi-Fi goes beyond 802.11ad wireless speed, range

Products based on the IEEE 802.11ad (WiGig) standard have really only begun rolling out over the past year, but an effort to deliver an enhancement dubbed 802.11ay that promises to deliver faster and longer range W-Fi networks is gaining steam. 

Here’s the lowdown on this newest in the 802.11 WLAN series… 

I can’t believe I have another 802.11something-or-other to keep track of. 

Believe it. Though really think of 802.11ay as an enhancement of 11ad in the unlicensed 60 GHz millimeter wave band of spectrum, so it should be a pretty natural upgrade. And it could really be worth any trouble given potential speed and range improvements.

So what's the difference between ad and ay?

The 802.11ad standard was published in 2012 and the technology gives devices access to the unlicensed and relatively unclogged 60 GHz millimeter wave spectrum band for multimedia streaming, VR headset connectivity, computer-to-monitor wireless links and other apps that don’t require more than say 30 or 40 feet of unimpeded space. It has been adopted by chipmakers like Intel, Peraso and Qualcomm as well as vendors of routers, access points or other devices such as Dell, TP-Link and Netgear. The Wi-Fi Alliance runs a WiGig certification program for vendors, and the early 11ad gear on the market most commonly supports data transfer rates of 4.6Gbps – way faster than 802.11n and 11ac, but more limited in range and unable to penetrate solid objects.

The backwards compatible 802.11ay amendment to 802.11ad is designed to boost speeds several-fold. That initially would amount to a transmission rate of 20 to 30Gbps and a range of 33 to 100 feet with 11ay-to-11ay device setups, but once channel bonding, MIMO and other capabilities are exploited, you could be getting closer to 200Gbps and reaching distances approaching1,000 feet, according to industry players.

11ay, as the specs are being developed, “is really allowing for a wider range of products than you’d get with ad, which has one set of data rates that everyone supports… ay has a lot more parameters to play with in channel bonding, MIMO and features at the MAC level to allow a far greater range of performance and products,” says Brad Lynch, co-founder and SVP of product development at Peraso Technologies, which already has WiGig-certified 11ad chipsets on the market and is readying for 11ay. 

MORE: Read our Q&A with Peraso's Brad Lynch

By the way, don’t confuse 802.11ay with 802.11ax, which will work in the 2.5 and 5 GHz bands.

What would 11ay be used for?

It remains to be seen how soon the high speeds of 11ay will really be needed for internal uses, as 802.11ac — including Wave 2 products — are already pretty robust. But Peraso’s Lynch says that if 11ad doesn’t quite do it for you given its distance limitations, “11ay will finally be the technology that would let you snip that Ethernet cord – you no longer have to run Ethernet cables to everyone’s desk… there’s enough wireless bandwidth in ay.”

Most of those we spoke with about 11ay were more enthusiastic about its potential as a fixed point-to-point or point-to-multipoint outdoor backhaul technology, especially in light of scaled back fiber rollout plans by providers like Google and Verizon in the face of extraordinary costs associated with such implementations. “I’m more bullish on using ad & ay for backhaul (instead of mesh) in the case of campus & city networks — provided that it has a useful range, says Claus Hetting of Hetting Consulting and Chairman of the Wi-Fi Now event.

But it’s possible that 11ay could find a role in internal mesh and backbone networks as well as for other uses such as providing connectivity to VR headsets, supporting server backups and handling cloud applications that require low latency. “I believe that eventually, there will be enterprise applications for this - but it’s probably a few years into the future, given that we will have 802.11ax fairly soon & because there’s still a lot of 5 GHz band available for that (and ac),” Hetting says. 

On the consumer side, the trend over the past year has really been to get rid of cables, so 802.11ay as an HDMI or USB replacement would be "a beautiful application," says Bernd Jungbluth, senior test engineer for testing laboratory TUV Rheinland. "It could make more of the equipment intuitive," as Bluetooth and Near Field Communication have done for certain applications, he says. 

When will 11ay become reality?

The 802.11ay task group had its initial meeting in 2015 and the spec only hit the Draft 0.1 stage in January. Though it is expected to reach Draft 1.0 by July, according to the IEEE task group. If that mark is hit, expect pre-standard 11ay products to start rolling out within a year of that time.

Who is behind 11ay? 

The IEEE task force leading the 11ay work includes representatives from Huawei, Intel, LG Electronics and Teradyne. Reps from companies including Ericsson, Sony, Qualcomm, Panasonic and Peraso have also attended meetings.

The group states its goal as this: "Task Group ay is expected to develop an amendment that defines standardized modifications to both the IEEE 802.11 physical layers (PHY) and the IEEE 802,11 medium access control layer (MAC) that enables at least one mode of operation capable of supporting a maximum throughput of at least 20 gigabits per second (measured at the MAC data service access point), while maintaining or improving the power efficiency per station.  This amendment also defines operations for license-exempt bands above 45 GHz while ensuring backward compatibility and coexistence with legacy directional multi-gigabit stations (defined by IEEE 802.11ad-2012 amendment) operating in the same band."

MORE: Wi-Fi hotspot blocking persists despite FCC crackdown

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