SAN JOSE, Calif. — Qualcomm announced chipsets for the new 802.11ay standard, hoping to nudge 60-GHz Wi-Fi out of the niche that it has occupied for several years. The market situation may provide a cautionary tale for the company and others working on millimeter-wave (mmWave) support for 5G cellular.

Chips for the initial 60-GHz Wi-Fi standard, .11ad, rolled out six years ago, but as of last year, they still make up only a small sliver of the vast Wi-Fi chip market. The .11ay standard adds dual-channel bonding to double data rates up to nearly 10 Gbits/s but cannot overcome the physics that limit the reach of 60-GHz signals typically to within a room.

A version of the new chips for access points (APs) supports indoor line-of-sight distances of up to 50 m at 4.5 Gbits/s. A mobile version consumes up to a watt at peak transmission rates.

Although 60-GHz signals have poor penetration of walls, efficiency in Gbits/mW is up thanks to the higher data rates. The new chips support a sustained latency as low as 3 ms, making uses like AR/VR headsets one focus.

Over the last year or so, Qualcomm got its .11ad chips used in the Asus Rog phone, two high-end APs, and a Facebook trial called Terragraph of 60 GHz as a metro-access link. The company hopes that its new .11ay chips see expanded use in APs as well as handsets and AR/VR headsets.

Qualcomm hopes that the new data rates enable radar-like features such as gesture and face recognition as well as room mapping and better mobile broadcasting of video to a TV. Such features could expand the chips’ use in TVs and set-top boxes.

The QCA6438 and QCA6428 for infrastructure and fixed wireless access and QCA6421 and QCA6431 for mobile devices are implemented in separate baseband and RF chips. That’s fairly common for 60-GHz chips also supplied by vendors such as Blu Wireless, Broadcom, Hitachi, Intel, Lattice (acquired Silicon Image, 802.11ad chipset), Nitero, Peraso, and Tensorcom.

A little over half a million 60-GHz chipsets are expected to ship this year, compared to nearly 3.6 billion for all other versions of Wi-Fi, accrding to IHS Markit.

“60 GHz is still a niche standard,” said Yogita Kanesin, who follows Wi-Fi for IHS. “Despite the advantages, there have been only a couple of consumer-grade Wi-Fi router manufacturers that have launched WiGig products such as Netgear and TP-Link.”

Besides a thin ecosystem of consumer products, 60-GHz Wi-Fi also faces “a limited number of applications apart from 4K video streaming,” one of the first uses of the standard, she added.

Qualcomm showed its prowess in mmWave design earlier this year, rolling out an RF front-end module for 5G smartphones. Rivals such as Broadcom, Qorvo, and Skyworks said that they don’t expect that initial 5G handsets will support mmWave bands due to design and market challenges.

One of the big questions in wireless in 2019 will be whether handsets geared mainly for 28 and 39 GHz gain market traction any faster than the 60-GHz Wi-Fi products.

— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times Circle me on Google+