Ultrawideband standards split deepens

The race for ultrawideband supremacy is getting dirtier, with existing agreements torn up by Intel and its friends

Hopes are fading that the next generation of wireless networking, based on ultrawideband (UWB) technology, will be based on a single standard.

The major special interest group, the Multiband-OFDM Alliance or MBOA, has already effectively abandoned the 802.15.3 task group which was to have created an 802.11-style set of standards. The MBOA has now also decided to throw out previously agreed parts of the new standard and impose its own ideas.

UWB is seen as a key near-future technology for wirelessly linking video, audio and other consumer devices at speeds approaching a gigabit a second. According to a report in industry newspaper EE Times, the MBOA -- led by Intel and Texas Instruments -- has made its changes to "solve the mobility and consumer electronics requirements and issues" of UWB.

Previously, the opposing Direct Sequence UWB group headed by Motorola had already flagged these areas as weaknesses in the MBOA's approach, telling ZDNet UK that the technology hadn't demonstrated it could work well in these areas. Motorola proposed additions to the physical layer (PHY) of the wireless network -- the code that actually controls the transmitter and receiver -- to fix these problems within the 802.15.3a standard.

However, the MBOA has proclaimed that it will make UWB work with a wide range of products by adding functions instead to the media access control (MAC) layer: higher level software that handles network addressing. As there is already an agreed 802.15.3 MAC which it now rejects, the MBOA's decision further removes the group from the standards process.

Among the new features added to the MAC are functions for mobile devices and meshes, where groups of UWB devices create their own networks on an ad-hoc basis, as well as ways for more efficient sharing of bandwidth than before.

However, Motorola disputes the MBOA's claim that the existing MAC wasn't up to the job. "That MAC is already proven to be suited to CE A/V (audio-video) applications with low latency, full quality of service and support for multiple users." Martin Rofheart, Motorola's director of UWB operations, told EE Times. "It's been through simulations and now it's been implemented. It's mature and proven." The MBOA admitted that existing MAC implementations would have to be drastically revised if they are to work with the new proposals.

Disputes notwithstanding, all actors in UWB expect early versions of working hardware and software to become available late this year or early 2005, with consumer products appearing later in that year.