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Wi-Fi Direct coming on strong, Broadcom says

Carriers are clamoring for the peer-to-peer standard for content exchange, according to Broadcom

Wi-Fi Direct, a peer-to-peer networking standard that came out last year but has been slow to appear in consumer products, will be in a large percentage of mobile phones by year's end, according to communications chip maker Broadcom.

"There's a huge push now from the carriers to have Wi-Fi Direct," said Michael Hurlston, senior vice president of Broadcom's Home and Wireless Networking Business Unit, at a San Francisco press roundtable on Wednesday.

Wi-Fi Direct is the first standard, practical mechanism for devices to communicate via Wi-Fi without joining a wireless LAN and going through a central access point. It is designed for linking peripherals to PCs, doing quick file transfers and linking home entertainment devices. The Wi-Fi Alliance began certifying Wi-Fi Direct products last October, but when consumer electronics vendors had gathered for the International Consumer Electronics Show in early January, few were demonstrating equipment that used the technology.

The new standard hasn't hit the ground nearly as fast as some Wi-Fi advances have in the past. This is partly because Wi-Fi Direct doesn't just define faster performance for current uses of wireless LANs, as 802.11n did. It requires new software for new uses. Also, building chipsets that support the new standard into mobile devices is harder than sliding them into laptops or access points, because space and power are at a greater premium.

Broadcom believes mobile will be one of several big uses for Wi-Fi Direct. Carriers see it as a way to make it as easy as possible to move content from phones to other devices, such as TVs, Hurlston said. The same technology will find its way into tablets, he said. Standardization under Wi-Fi will help to give consumers confidence that, for example, their phones will be able to display photos on their friends' TVs, he said.

Because it is an open industry standard, Wi-Fi Direct will form a widely supported foundation for peer-to-peer networking on which other protocols, such as DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) can be implemented, according to Vijay Nagarajan, manager of product marketing in Broadcom's Mobile and Wireless Group. On top of Wi-Fi Direct, handset makers can implement software that makes it very easy to pair devices and set up communication, while DLNA can determine whether a particular piece of content from one device can be played on another, Nagarajan said.

To demonstrate Wi-Fi Direct, Nagarajan paired a Motorola Xoom tablet with a TV and played a video game. Because of the high speed and low latency of the Wi-Fi Direct connection over a short range of a few feet, the tablet and TV displayed synchronized video and he could control the game on the tablet while watching the TV. The Xoom and TV needed to have prototype communication devices wired to them for the demonstration, but Broadcom plans to offer components that can be integrated into both types of devices for a pure wireless experience, Nagarajan said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is [email protected]


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