The development of ultra-wideband, UWB, technology for wireless personal area networking has turned to the market as the ultimate arbiter of which technology wins, after the IEEE abandoned plans to establish a standard.
The standards body’s meeting in Hawaii last week made a lot of headlines with the positive news that the rival camps duking it out over the MIMO multiple antenna standard for wireless LAN, also known as 802.11n, had reached a compromise solution, enabling enough commonality for a draft spec to be approved. However, at the same time, the IEEE gave up on the attempt to set another standard, 802.15.3a, and disbanded the working group on UWB.
UWB technology is in essence the next generation of WPAN beyond Bluetooth. Whereas Bluetooth works ideally in situations of close proximity between devices, say a few feet, and with relatively narrowband links of up to 723Kbps, UWB is designed to work over distances of up to 10 yards and deliver data rates of up to 480Mbps. This should make transmitting data between say a smart phone and a desktop PC faster and more convenient.
The development of a UWB market has been slowed in recent years by an inability to define the ultimate standard, with two rival camps pushing different specs. While the WiMedia Alliance, with members like Intel Corp and Texas Instruments Inc, favor splitting up a signal into 14 separate bands and using orthogonal frequency division multiplexing technology to transmit them, the rival UWB Forum, whose prime mover is Freescale Semiconductor Inc, spreads it out across the entire frequency.
A compromise between WiMedia’s multi-band OFDM, or MB-OFDM, and the UWBF’s direct-sequence implementations was all but impossible to achieve, in that the two are fundamentally different. Martin Rofheart, director of UWB operations at Austin, Texas-based Freescale, said his company proposed that both proposals be certified, with potential OEMs being able to pull down the spec on a component to make its choice, with the spec being a component ordering tool rather than a market making activity. That view did not prevail, however, so the two sides are now left to fight it out in the market.
That means signing up as many OEMs to use their respective technologies, and here Rofheart believes Freescale has the advantage in that DS leverages the existing USB 2.0 spec, whereas WiMedia opted for a ground-up redesign that requires users to buy a new software stack, new hardware and, if they want to be seamless, a new PC. He said this suits Intel, in particular, in that it drives sales of desktops and laptops in what has become a replacement market.
Meanwhile, the WiMedia camp says it not only has more silicon vendors on board, but also more OEMs It starts to look a lot like Betamax versus VHS, though Rofheart sees it differently. He said rival approaches to a technical issue can co-exist in the market. He cited the example of 802.11 WLAN, which he said has DS frequency hopping, infrared, OFDM, 2.4GHz and 5GHz, and none of the radios talk to each other. To suggest that there will be confusion in the market is a false statement.