You’ve figured out how to set up your home network so you can print, transfer files, and share the Internet on all the computers in your home. Now it’s time to kick it up a notch. Sharing high-fidelity entertainment content such as CD-quality audio, MPEG-2 video, MP3 files, and other multimedia programming is within your grasp, thanks to a new wireless networking protocol, Whitecap2. You’ve probably heard of the many emerging wireless network specifications – from 802.11a to 802.11g – and while they all play their role in the current and future wirelessly networked home, none have true multimedia functionality. In comes Whitecap2, the industry’s first entertainment-capable wireless LAN technology from Cirrus Logic’s Wireless Network Division. We’ll give you a glimpse at what Whitecap2 can do not just for your PC networking, but for a whole range of emerging hardware products and programming services you can look forward to in the coming year.
To understand what Whitecap2 will do for your home network, we must first understand the capabilities – and limitations – of 802.11b, or Wi-Fi, the current industry standard for wireless networking. Developed for the office environment, Wi-Fi allows a baseline standard for all wireless network products to operate with each other. At work, it allows your printer and other peripherals to talk to your PC at a maximum data throughput rate of 11mbps. Reliable routine data sharing is all you need from your office network. But 802.11b networks are more focused on data than multimedia. Multimedia has a different set of technical requirements in order to transmit seamlessly on a wireless network. For example, an 802.11b network gives all jobs the same priority, so if you take your laptop home and run a game from the laptop to your home computer, and print a document, and transfer a file, your game stutters and stops while the other jobs go through. Similarly, if you’re running a DVD movie off your laptop to the PC and concurrently performing other network jobs, your movie will suffer the same fate.
Whitecap2 is Wi-Fi-compliant, but adds several technology enhancements to deal with the special technical needs of multimedia. In addition, Cirrus added Quality of Service (QoS) to address these technical complexities, and other features to help the user set up, and use the WLAN in the home and the office. Key among these home-focused features are channel agility, which automatically switches channels when interference becomes too pervasive on the first channel, and immunity from household interference noise from microwave ovens and cordless phones.
What Whitecap2 does is give priority to the game, movie, and other multimedia content you’re running, allowing it more usable throughput within the 11mbps pipeline. If you imagine 802.11b as a highway, picture it with no traffic signs, no lanes, no lights – just data whizzing around with no traffic cop to maintain order. What Whitecap adds, to extend the metaphor, is a commuter lane for multimedia content. The network is still operating at 11mbps, but your movies, games, and other big-bandwidth content are delivered faster. And because Whitecap2 uses Quality of Service (QoS), the data is delivered predictably and consistently – just like watching a movie on your VCR. Of course, you can still perform routine network operations simultaneously. Just with Whitecap2, they won’t bring down the network.
There are other pitfalls of using 802.11b in the home. Because it was designed for the office, 802.11b falls victim to all your home appliances – like your microwave and cordless phone — which also send radio frequencies through the air. Whitecap2 provides interference immunity from these appliances, using Forward-Error-Correction (FEC), a packet-correcting technology developed by Distributed Satellite Systems that continuously monitors the data error rate and corrects problems on the fly. When interference becomes too pervasive, the network will automatically move to a different, jitter-free channel.
Products with Whitecap2 allow you to set up a wireless home network that will stream multimedia content and perform all the other network functions, at 11mbps. But products that incorporate wireless networking do not stop at the computer. The completely networked home, envisioned by Cirrus Logic and other vendors, encompasses a wide range of interconnected wireless devices, some of which haven’t yet been invented. Because Whitecap2 was developed to work independent of the PC, the technology will enable new wireless consumer devices, such as networked set-tops, digital video recorders, residential gateways, wireless MP3 players, mobile web pads, and digital audio and video jukeboxes.
The other part of the picture of wireless home networking is content. Currently, our multimedia content comes in the form of DVDs, compact discs, Internet content like MPEG and MP3, and games. Right now, we’re happy to play our games on the computer, watch DVDs on the TV, listen to CDs on the stereo, and download Internet files to the PC. Whitecap2 allows you to share all of these on all devices. Cirrus is forging relationships with cable service providers, satellite programmers, and Internet service providers, in order to facilitate the distribution of content for accessibility on all devices.
Whitecap2 is the earliest incarnation of IEEE 802.11e wireless LAN functionality. 802.11e adds multimedia and QoS support to the current IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN specification. Significant elements of Whitecap2’s QoS enhancements have been incorporated into the 802.11e draft specification, putting Cirrus at the forefront of bringing 802.11e to market and satisfying the special needs of the home.
Cirrus is in full production with Whitecap2 now, and consumer products are expected to be available in the first half of 2002. Products containing Whitecap2 will be backward compatible with Whitecap1 technology, found in existing products from Panasonic and NETGEAR, as well as software upgradeable to the upcoming 802.11e standard.
Cirrus Wireless Networking Division (formerly ShareWave, Inc.)
5175 Hillsdale Circle
El Dorado Hills, CA 95762
Phone: 916.939.9400 Fax: 916.939.9434
Carmella Lyman, GoldRush Communications
(530) 546-5488, firstname.lastname@example.org
Caroline Knorr, GoldRush Communications
(415) 585-1775, email@example.com