UWB standards war splits to three contenders

UWB standards war splits to three contenders

It may be a fast wireless technology, but rivalry amongst the ultra wide band companies looks like slowing the actual products down. While the two existing ultra wide band (UWB) proposals struggle to provide a standard uber-Bluetooth cable replacement, a new offering promises more WLAN-like abilities - and more confusion in the prospects for Gigabit wireless data.

The new CWave Alliance, which is focussing first on consumer applications, promises HDTV speeds at WLAN distances. Pulse-Link has launched an evaluation kit to demonstrate it - though this is only available to people who join the nascent Alliance. The group's name is, of course, an acronym (Consumer Wireless Audio Visual Entertainment Alliance) but, as yet it has no members beyond Pulse-Link.

Pulse-Link is an outsider in the development of UWB, a technology that spreads signals across a broad spectrum, instead of using one frequency. The other two camps have been fighting tooth and nail: the Intel-backed MBOA Alliance, which has a majority in the IEEE's standards process, and Motorola subsidiary Freescale's UWB Forum, which has enough votes to block it.

Typically for UWB, the announcement was greeted with derision by other players: "We are trying to figure out what this CWAVE announcement really means," said Mark Bowles, marketing vice president at MBOA member, Staccato Communications. "Standards groups only matter if real customers get behind them, help define them, and most importantly, adopt and ship them in products. With so much momentum behind MBOA, I am not sure what CWAVE brings to the party."

With standards in deadlock, the vendors are all racing to deliver products. Freescale has an aggressive roadmap and the first products. Samsung showed a handset with Freescale-based UWB at the 3GSM show last week. Meanwhile MBOA member Intel promises "wireless USB", and the MBOA has promised to go ahead with products regardless of IEEE standards.

"Motorola, from the UWB Forum camp, has a huge head start in terms of chip development," said Maury Wright of EDN magazine. "I believe that the MBOA will at best deliver on what Intel is calling Wireless USB with range covering an office at best. I believe that the UWB Forum will deliver technology that can move HDTV streams around a living room."

UWB competitors routinely claim - off the record - that their rivals' technology simply does not work, so all players are making efforts to make their technology more "real". Pulse-Link's evaluation kit could be a step towards proving its claims to have faster UWB than the others players. However, its technology is still at the stage of more-or-less private demonstrations. "We are demonstrating our EVK publicly at the Homeland & Global Security Summit next week, followed by private demonstrations at the FCC," said Laurie Watkins of Pulse-Link.

This is enough for some observers: "Is it real?" says UWB-watcher Kirsten West, of West Technology Research. "I saw it work, and I could come up with no reasonable evidence that it doesn't work. Pulse-Link has a good plan for how to enter the marketplace, as well. It's not just about technology."

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