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UWB standard delay likely for a year (or more)

Stalemate still stale

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The head of the IEEE 802.15.3a committee, which failed to reach agreement on its UltraWideBand-based standard last month, has admitted that the stalemate between the two contending technologies is likely to last for at least another year. Rather than delay the rollout of UWB, vendors are increasingly indicating that they will launch proprietary products as soon as possible and let the market decide, which could present the IEEE with a fait accompli by the end of 2004.

Bob Heile, head of the 802.15.3a group, sees no chance of the conflict between the two submissions being resolved at the IEEE’s next meeting in Vancouver, Canada in January. He said “experience in the market” was the only way now to decide between the two approaches – multiband OFDM from the TI/Intel-led MBOA group, or direct sequence CDMA from Motorola.

Both sides have already hinted that they will plough on with launching products, with the hidden agenda being to win sufficient acceptance as to constitute a de facto standard. In this context, Motorola has the advantage of existing silicon, which has already been adopted by companies such as Samsung, but TI claims support from a larger number of large consumer electronics players, including Sony. Both sides have offered to waive royalties if their technologies become standard.

One company that plans to ship non-standard UWB devices in the coming year is Appairent Technologies, Heile’s company, which makes embedded technology for home media networking and public safety applications. Spun out of Eastman Kodak in January 2002, it counts Motorola as an investors. Motorola, which has acquired its UWB partner XtremeSpectrum, and General Atomics will ship direct sequence CDMA products next year. Products from the MBOA will not follow until the end of the year since the group will not complete its specification until May, but after this, it will have the roll-out ability of Intel and TI to build up momentum. Heile claims that monitoring the progress of the non-standard UWB products through 2004 will enable the IEEE to make quick decisions by the end of the year and to finalize a “kickass standard” within a few months of those decisions.

However, the lack of standards could hold up the market and reduce UWB’s potential to supplant Bluetooth in the near term. Companies like Cisco are investigating enterprise applications for UWB-based personal area networking but companies will be nervous of adopting non-standard gear, although this is a less important issue for the consumer electronics makers, which are more used to establishing their own technologies in the market. One piece of good news for UWB came from the US Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC said it has carried out tests that show that various devices, including PCs and electric drills, already violate limits the FCC has imposed on UWB for non-interference with GPS systems. This makes it likely that the FCC will loosen the restrictions it put on UWB in 2002, although chipmakers have asked the body not to change its rules until they have got some return from their first generation parts, which comply with the strict rules.

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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