UWB chips debut with gigabit wireless in sight

Debuting at 110Mbps, Freescale's new ultrawideband chips are the first in a promised family that should include a gigabit version by next year

Motorola's semiconductor division, Freescale, has announced availability of its first ultrawideband (UWB) wireless chipsets, with parts to be available to manufacturers by the end of June and consumer products expected by the end of 2004. The XtremeSpectrum three-chip set runs at more than 110Mbps -- twice the speed of 802.11g -- with 220Mbps, 480Mbps and 1Gbps speeds to become available in sample quantities during the next 12 months.

"We're out in front by at least two years," Freescale's director of UWB Martin Rofheart told ZDNet UK. "Our customers and partners have delivery commitments, and the chipset plus the roadmap is a real stake in the ground."

He said that the initial 110Mbps part would be available in mini-PCI format adaptors for use in DVDs, high-end TVs and media adaptors, with the 220Mbps two-chip set being aimed at hand-held devices such as cellphones and PDAs.

The 480Mbps and 1Gbps part -- which will be a single chip -- will be aimed at iPod-style applications, where portable devices with very large hard disks connect to broadband and home PC systems. "UWB has at least 10 times better performance than 802.11 for speed over power," Rofheart said. "This technology is definitely aimed at portable devices."

Initially, UWB will be restricted to the US for regulatory and marketing reasons. "The US market will let us demonstrate non-interference and suitability for market and regulatory issues," said Rofheart, "and then we can move into other markets".

The 110Mbps part costs $19.95 (£10.86) in quantity, uses 750 milliwatts and comes with Ethernet and 1394/Firewire drivers for Linux, with support forthcoming for Windows XP and CE. No equivalent details are available for the faster chips.

Ultrawideband product development is split into two competing technologies, Freescale's Direct Sequence UWB (DS-UWB) and the Intel/TI-led Multiband OFDM Alliance's MB-OFDM. A year-long dispute between the camps has effectively paralysed the 802.15.3a group tasked with setting a single universal UWB standard. Both groups have committed to continued development without agreement: although the Freescale chipset is compliant with portions of the 802.15.3a standard that have been agreed, the MBOA has said that its products will work differently.

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