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WirelessHD's 60GHz platform could spark standards war

Destructive power struggle

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Six of the world’s biggest consumer electronics companies - Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, Toshiba, NEC and LG Electronics - have turned the short range connectivity world on its head, in forming the WirelessHD (WiHD) special interest group, which will settle on license-free 60GHz spectrum for connecting entertainment devices in the home. This could be seen as a blow to the efforts of the PC/cellphone community to promote UltraWideBand as the fast, low power wireless network of choice for the digital home, but eventually, despite the posturings and vendor politics, an integrated platform combining UWB, 60GHz Wi-Fi and Bluetooth could be on the cards.

The new standard specification will be with us by spring 2007 and is expected to be based on the work of another WiHD member, specialist SiBeam, which said last week that it would develop the specification for a wireless high definition (HD) digital interface using its existing technology. The new group is calling for other vendors to join.

Until now, the various flavors of UltraWideBand (UWB), including different offerings from Freescale, Pulse~Link and the WiMedia Alliance - whose technology underpins both Wireless USB and future wireless carriers for Bluetooth - had been thought the most likely candidates for general purpose high speed connectivity around the home. UWB was expected to be offer sufficient speed, resilience and low power requirements to be used in portable, battery powered devices. And UWB could still be combined with 60GHz spectrum in future, an approach that has been mooted in the past by Intel.

The WiHD spec

If the new specification wins out, it is likely to go into cameras, video cameras, HD TV sets, DVRs, DVD players, set tops, PCs, games consoles and mobile phones, taking the chip market for it up into billions of devices per annum and controlled entirely by this powerful CE group. That is one of the key differences from UWB - although Sony, Philips and others assured the WiMedia flavor of UWB a future in consumer electronics by supporting it, and inputting into its current specifications, the technology has its roots in the PC connectivity and cellphone markets, whereas the WiHD platform will be controlled from the outset by its primary would-be customers.

John Marshall, chairman of WiHD, said 60GHz radios would support low cost and higher quality high definition video products because the 4-5Gbps radios will send uncompressed video, skipping compression and decompression steps that require costly chips, degrade video quality and increase latency (Radiospire is taking a similar uncompressed approach in Wi-MAX). The group is developing a complete spec for 60GHz products that spans physical to application layer details. Initial products based on the spec could draw roughly 5Watts and cost a slight premium over today's wired HDMI links.

The new WiHD system will be backed by all the listed vendors and so drive interoperability between equipment, sending uncompressed high definition TV across a room, and it will also be scalable beyond HD to future high definition AV formats.

The system uses smart antenna to overcome line of sight problems that have affected Wi-Fi, and will offer secure communications, working at multi-gigabit speeds and including an error correction system so that the format loses no data in transfer.

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