Today at Intel’s developer conference in San Francisco the company announced its plans to add WiGig and Rezence to its vPro platform. The goal behind these two additions it to enable completely cordless PCs. For those of you that are unfamiliar with these two standards WiGig is a short-range direct connection standard similar to Bluetooth in terms of function but is much higher bandwidth. WiGig operates at 60 Ghz and has a range of two to four feet. Rezence is a wireless power standard that uses close proximity charging pads to support the transfer of 10 to 50 Watts of power over the air. But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here, let’s start where Intel started, wireless display.
For Intel building a wireless workstation started with a wireless display solution called WiDi. Up until now WiDi has been an interesting but flawed product, the biggest issue of which was latency. Games were unplayable and using WiDi in general was a frustrating experience with a lot of asterisks attached to its capabilities.
But for 2015 with the 5th generation of Intel Core processors the company is aiming to right those wrongs and provide a usable WiDi experience. Intel now has its wireless card and GPU cores working together to capture, compress, and send the displayed content to the Miracast receiver in a way that’s managed to reduce latencies to the point where games are actually playable and the user experience is good. Another interesting feature is that you can now connect to up to four 1080P wireless displays or two 4K wireless displays. UPDATE 9/12: Intel says the prior sentance is not true.
Intel has also implemented a new UI and a variety of managed modes for controlling who’s in charge of a given wireless display for business and educational environments. These modes are exclusive which blocks request to take over the stream, interactive which allows other users to take over the stream, and Moderated where one user controls who has the display stream. Of course if you get the vPro version then all of this becomes a remote managed solution. Intel has also intergrated their wireless display solution into Windows 8.1 share charm which makes it drastically easier to use and configure.
Intel has also moved to improve security by encrypting the stream and isolating the WLAN or WPLAN connection. As an improvement to usability WiDi will now prompt you to end the display session when you leave a room to avoid and embarrassing mishaps.
Intel has also started a certification program where the company is purchasing Miracast receivers and then testing them to make sure they meet Intel’s standards for streaming quality. If they meet Intel standards then they are Certified Intel WiDi products if they don’t then they are just standard Miracast receivers. There is also an up market tier for vPro that requires security support, manageability, and the ability to configure what channel the stream travels over called Certified Intel Pro WiDi. Largely Intel is trying to attack the business and education markets with its revamped WiDi solution and it seems that from a technical and usability perspective they’ve nailed it.
After wireless displays comes wireless peripherals and a solution that Intel calls Wireless Docking. There are plenty of wireless keyboards and mice on the market right now, but they all have one big flaw. They require that you plug a dongle into a USB port for the device to work. With Intel adoption of WiGig these dongles will be a thing of the past. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article WiGig is a high frequency, high bandwidth, low latency wireless protocol which makes it perfect for connecting lots of devices that are short distances from the PC without spamming everything around it with RF interference. For example imaging walking into a cubical setting down your laptop and having all your peripherals connect based on your proximity to them without accidentally interfering with anyone else’s wireless devices. Through Intel’s Wireless Docking you can also connect to two close proximity monitors. Intel is offering this functionality again to avoid saturating the wireless spectrum available in an office with dozen of Miracast connections which have a circular range of 50 or so feet where as WiGig connections are only good for two to four feet.
For now only part of this dream is coming true as you’ll have to connect all of your peripherals to an Intel Wireless Docking adaptor before you can use an Intel Wireless Docking equipped PC to connect to the docking adaptor rather than just having your peripherals connect without the need for an adaptor. Think of this as an intermediate stage before the peripheral market adopts WiGig so we can skip around all this adapter nonsense. To be clear the addition of wireless docking will increase the BoM cost of a PC unlike WiDi which is BoM neutral. An additional antenna needs to be added for WiGig support due to the high frequency ranges it uses.
The final piece to this puzzle is wireless charging. Intel is using the Rezence standard from the Alliance for Wireless Power to enable wireless charging on PCs. For wireless charging to work Intel is building its own charging transmitter and power receiving solutions. For end users all you’ll have to do is place your devices on the pad and it will start changing. Intel wireless power transmitter unit also support charging multiple devices at the same time so you can toss your phone and watch on the charging pad as well. As an option for people that think wireless charging pads are ugly you can also charge devices from a few inches vertically above the pad. Which gives user the option to retrofit the pads on to the underside of an existing table thus hiding them from view while maintaining the all the benefits of wireless charging.
One of the cooler things that Intel showed of was a cloth tablet cover that they had retrofitted with a wireless power receiver. The tablet sliped into the sleve, was set down on the charging pad and was charging via the USB connction between the tablet and the power receiver in the sleve.
Another issue that Intel and the Rezence standard had to confront was the heating of metallic objects like paper clips and keys. To avoid any mishaps there they’ve set the resonant coupling frequency to 6.78 Mhz which is apparently the sweet spot for avoiding unintentional charging and allowing capable devices to charge while other objects are present on the pad. In cases where the pad does start heating something it’s not supposed to be the system will throw an error message and if need be shutdown to avoid causing damage or injury.
As far as availability goes Intel is expecting OEMs to begin rolling its wireless docking technology in the first half of 2015 alongside their Broadwell based products. Intel’s revamped wireless display technology will arrive with Broadwell as well. Intel’s wireless charging solution is a less immediate proposition, but something that I would expect to see out in the wild before the end of the year.
A completely wireless office is a beautiful and practical goal so we applaud Intel’s efforts in this space. They’ve taken a classic problem that has beguiled users for years and finally developed a solution. Now if only this wasn’t a vPro exclusive solution.S|A
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