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Bluetooth SIG backs Wi-Fi as fast WPAN choices proliferate

Turns to 802.11n

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Comment Controlling the technology that will underpin the next generation of fast wireless networks, especially for the multimedia home and HDTV, will be a critical competitive advantage, and the jostling for position is already starting.

IBM and others are putting their weight behind 60GHz options, and the Wi-Fi community is examining gigabit options, but for the nearer term, 802.11n Wi-Fi and UltraWideBand (UWB) are the main emerging options for high speed, short range connections.

UWB wins the day on performance and low power usage, provided distances are kept short, but with the once tortured 802.11n standards process now approaching resolution, UWB is in danger of falling behind in terms of commercial availability.

This is because of two factors – although several regulators, including those in the European Union, US, and Japan, have now opened up to UWB, there are many more decisions to be made before it becomes universal like Wi-Fi; and there are now some doubts over its actual performance in commercial platforms, which could delay the volume commitment from chipmakers and OEMs that is required to achieve the brutally tight economics of embedded personal area wireless.

Bluetooth over Wi-Fi

One sign that fast Wi-Fi is edging ahead of UWB in time to market terms is a decision by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), which controls the short range, mid-speed standard, to create protocols that will enable Bluetooth to use Wi-Fi as a transport.

The SIG had previously committed to developing its proposed high speed option using UWB – and specifically, the WiMedia standard implementation backed by most of the PC and consumer electronics sectors – as the transport, but now wants to offer an 802.11n choice as this is making better progress in getting into handsets (though currently in a pre-standard version).

This is presented by the group as a stopgap option before their first choice is fully launched, but if Bluetooth over Wi-Fi is widely adopted, that may shrink, or at least delay, the addressable market for a UWB version, except in applications that require extremely high speeds.

"We have got to be realistic," said John Barr, chairman of the SIG's board of directors, and director of standards realisation at Motorola. "UltraWideBand silicon vendors are not delivering anything close to what they have promised."

He told the Bluetooth Evolution conference in London last week that Motorola had shifted its focus because of UWB delays and is seeing rising demand for Wi-Fi in mobile devices. Since Motorola has not taken a major role in the WiMedia Alliance, whose technology was originally opposed in the standards bodies by a rival from former Motorola chip unit Freescale, it may also see 802.11n as an option over which it can have more influence.

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