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60GHz 802.11ad/802.11ay: 1Gbit over thin air

Every once in a while there comes new technologies that scratch a niche perfectly. This is one of them. Iraq has relied on wireless for a while now, and while this is slowly going away it’ll take years to get phased out completely. However, I’m an early adopter of the 60GHz spectrum so I thought I’d share my experience after using the spectrum for some 4 years now.

60GHz is pretty special to say the least. It doesn’t really abide by normal 5GHz and 2.4GHz physics. It’s an absolute nightmare to aim and calibrate properly but the reward is worth it once you do. The ultra high frequency makes it such that the beam width only allows for 1 degree of freedom before you lose signal. Crazy, right? Not only that but 60GHz resonates with oxygen. So the signal gets attenuated by air. Thought 2.4GHz and walls were bad?

Fortunately all 60GHz gear employ phased array antennas, which focus the signal in a specific region or space. It’s very cool and allows for some degree of error and freedom before losing connection. It also allows the link to be stable and will correct itself automatically. This isn’t an excuse to not aim well though. They also have the addition of being completely electronic with no mechanical parts needed for the antenna to aim itself.

The piece of kit I’ve been using is a pair of MikroTik nRAYs. They come in pairs and preconfigured out of the box. Plug and play mostly, except needing to aim them which might take hours but I digress. The nRAY comes with a modest 256MB of memory, 16MB storage and 2 ARM64 cores. It’s not that much but it can certainly handle being a symmetrical gigabit bridge. To quickly summarize the performance and my experience:

  • I was able to move symmetrical gigabit through it without it struggling (2Gbit throughput).
  • The kit successfully established a link at 250 meters and has been stable ever since. MikroTik advertises 1.5km for this link but you shouldn’t go that far as rain does affect the signal.
  • The latency between the radios is 0.4ms with no noticable jitter.
  • Power consumption is low at 4W on average with 6W being the max with 2Gbit throughput.

It looks very good on paper, and it is! But 60GHz isn’t without downsides…

  • Operating at such high frequencies makes it prone to oxygen attenuation.
  • Rain moderately impacts the link, sometimes cutting the throughput from 2Gbit to ~500Mbit. Will kill the link entirely if you’re at the range limit of the kit (+1km).
  • Nightmare to aim and even a piece of paper will completely kill the link.

If you’re looking to colocate your kit with a tower, then 60GHz makes sense since most 60GHz radios are tiny and won’t interfere with other 5GHz and 2.4GHz radios. Even if there are nearby 60GHz radios it won’t interfere since the beam is so tiny and hyper focused.

60GHz has been a lifesaver for me personally since I can experience the stability and speed of fibre optic connections without actually having one. I had a fibre run in the past and the latency difference between the radios vs fibre is only 0.2ms. It’s very negligble and I don’t have to deal with the pain of having my run being mauled every single month. For $300, it is worth every single cent. There are cheaper kits that go for $100 however they’re capped at 100Mbit only, If you’re only looking for latency stability then it is 100% worth it.