Wi-Fi, the wireless networking standard driving a revolution in how many computer users connect to the Internet, and its first cousin WiMax may prove to be important players in the ultimate landscape of HDTV signal distribution to the home and around the house.
While implementation of the technology is ongoing and HDTV distribution is likely only to be a slice of its broad reach, Wi-Fi and WiMax are garnering the support of industry heavyweights like Intel and fueling the imagination of entrepreneurs looking to offer broadband services to the home and for portable Internet applications.
Wi-Fi, also known as the 802.11 standard, was developed by Apple Computers in 1999. The upper bandwidth limit of Wi-Fi is in 11 mbps range and the maximum distance between transmitter and receiver is a few hundred feet. These parameters have limited the usefulness of Wi-Fi for video and HD distribution.
However, on July 9 Intel announced it would work with Tel-Aviv-based partner Alvarion to include the chip-maker’s 802.16a WiMax chips in Alvarion’s next generation of broadband wireless products. The WiMax standard provides up to 100 Mbps in a 20Mhz channel, broadband connectivity for home, business and "Wi-Fi hotspots" over distances as great as 30 miles.
With such a high data rate, HDTV transmission to the home is not unimaginable, and with a company the size of Intel devoting significant technological and financial resources to the wireless technology the success of the standard becomes more likely.
For broadcasters struggling to put their arms around the future of digital television distribution, the efforts of Intel in promoting Wi-Fi and WiMax raise interesting questions and possibilities. For instance, how does the new wireless technology affect the relationship broadcasters have traditionally had with cable providers as a significant gatekeeper on content delivery, is there room for broadcasters at the WiMax table as service providers, how will the availability of broadband wireless technology that’s suitable for the bandwidth demands of HDTV impact the adoption by consumers of new HDTV displays, especially those like front-screen projectors that currently must be tethered quite a distance via coax to a receiver? Whatever the answers ultimately may be to these and other questions, broadcasters are likely to live with their consequences for a long time to come.