The development of ultrawideband technology has been closely watched by design engineers who want high bandwidth and low power for portable products that use video and other large files. Now there's a flurry of activity in UWB, but there's also been a split that raises the possibility of incompatible versions of UWB.
Freescale Semiconductor of Austin, TX, rolled out the industry's first UWB chips last fall and quickly teamed up with Taiwanese module makers who are marketing PCI and 1394 products that bring UWB's 110 Mbit/sec speed to portable products. Freescale leveraged an IEEE standard, using a technique called direct sequence technology.
In another move, a separate UWB specification was completed by the Multiband OFDM Alliance (MBOA) Special Interest Group late last year. Chips could ship in the second half of 2005.
The WiMedia Alliance and the 1394 Trade Association are linking up with the MBOA, planning to port 1394 to USB. That puts more than 100 companies in the MBOA camp.
That also puts some question marks around the future of a standard that might emerge with two incompatible versions. "Consumers better know the difference between direct sequence and Multiband OFDM," says Alan Varghese, director of semiconductor research at ABI Research of Oyster Bay, NY.
He notes that Freescale seems to have a big headstart on the MBOA vendors, but that there won't be much market acceptance for the technology. Chips prices are well above $10, far higher than the $3 mentioned in early discussions.
Speed King: UWB offers far faster
transfer rates than Wi-Fi (802.11) or
Despite questions on compatibility and pricing, proponents contend that UWB
meets demands that are beginning to emerge. Today, cell phones, consumer
electronics, and handheld PCs don't need much speed, so Bluetooth works as a
When more complex devices start handling graphics, large music files, and movies, the transfer rates of UWB will become more important. "These products will have unique interface needs, and UWB is best suited to provide a personal area network for them, complementing 802.11," says Dusty Russell, manager of connectivity solutions marketing at Texas Instruments.
UWB has higher data rates and shorter transfer distances
than Wi-Fi while also meeting the low power requirements portable products need.
It will also be able to operate in homes or other places where many different
communications occur simultaneously.
"One valuable aspect of UWB is that you can have USB and HDTV streaming along with 1394," says Glyn Roberts, business R&D manager at STMicroelectronics Advanced System Technology.