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WirelessHD's 60GHz platform could spark standards war

Destructive power struggle

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"UWB is the technology for today," Wood said in an interview. "We haven't talked about 60GHz radios because they are not mature. We could get consumers all revved up about 60GHz, but we would be doing them a disservice."

"From a technical and regulatory point of view, it will be difficult for UWB to get to 4-5Gbps, so I don't see that technology as directly competitive," Mitchell retorted.

However, the stage could be set for another battle royal under the auspices of the IEEE standards body and its 802.15 PAN process. Already, stalemate in its 802.15.3a working group, which looked to create a UWB-based high speed, short range standard led to Intel, Texas Instruments and others leading a breakaway group, which evolved into the WiMedia Alliance and took its technology off to an alternative standards body, ECMA, for ratification. This led to the death of the 802.15.3a effort, raising questions of how far the various 802.15 standards will coexist in future, and leading to the withdrawal of the other major contender for the platform, Freescale, from the UWB market.

The 802.15.3c standard:

Another 802.15 group, 802.15.3c, continues its work however, and is specifically examining a high speed, non-line of sight wireless PAN in 60GHz. It will accept proposals early next year, coinciding with the first WiHD samples. If the WiMedia Alliance, or individual companies that may feel threatened by WiHD, such as Intel, enter a head-to-head for 802.15.3c, yet another IEEE feud could arise, stalling the development of the market - or driving one or all of the contenders towards trying to set de facto standards, or approaching other bodies. All of this would deal another blow to the already discredited IEEE process.

However, the 802.15.3c physical layer for the 60GHz band could also be coupled with the 802.15.3 or other standards' media access control (MAC) layers to create converged standards that are compatible with existing and emerging networks. The application of a MAC such as WiMedia's to multiple physical layers is a powerful way to create standards that are adaptable to changing spectrum allocations round the world, simplifying interoperability between systems in different bands and streamlining the development effort.

So in the medium term, 60GHz activities - even if WiHD wins 802.15.3c support - should not operate as a threat or alternative to UWB, but rather a chance to extend the benefits promised by UWB to a wider range of devices and applications. A logical extension of all this activity would be to use the UWB physical layer – whether WiMedia or another – in 60GHz too, leading to even greater harmonization and economies of scale. Two issues make this outcome uncertain – whether key regulators will extend the bands in which UWB is allowed to operate above 10GHz, and whether efficient chipsets could be designed.

Some companies are already working on such projects though, although many are in the military space where UWB is allowed freer rein to span its whole spectrum range. Swiss components maker Huber+Suhner is one company with an R&D project in this area, looking at RF subsystems to combine 60GHz and UWB.

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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