Ultrawideband standards war brewing, says Intel

Despite lengthy discussions, the standards war over ultrawideband shows no signs of abating.

Despite lengthy discussions, the standards war over ultrawideband shows no signs of abating.

A key meeting for the standardisation of ultrawideband (UWB) radio has failed to break the industry deadlock, leaving the majority group committed to developing their standard even without IEEE approval.

The two main camps are the Multiband-OFDM Alliance (MBOA) and the Motorola/XtremeSpectrum group: each has a technology that they claim conforms to American regulations for the very high-speed, low-power wireless data UWB system. UWB promises low-cost radio connectivity at speeds approaching 400 Megabits per second, and is widely seen as having immense potential for digital media distribution in homes and in portable devices.

According to reports from this week’s Albuquerque meeting of the 802.15.3a group responsible for finalising the standard, attempts to reconcile the two factions failed in some acrimony, with MBOA lead member Intel accusing Motorola of breaking non-disclosure agreements. A vote with a 75 percent majority was required to move onto the next stage in the standardisation process, but the MBOA only achieved 58 percent.

Ben Manny, Intel’s co-director of its Wireless Technology Development group, told ZDNet UK that "the MBOA is going to continue to develop our specification. We'd like to see the IEEE endorse it, but that’s not necessary. What’s important is that people can build products around it, so we’re working with 1394 [the Firewire consortium], the Digital Home Group and others." He added, "I've given up guessing what the other camp is doing. We don’t want to see a standards war, but it's conceivable that it will happen".

Although the claims and counterclaims made by both camps haven’t been published, it is known that differences of opinion centre on the potential for the standard to cause interference with other radio users, on the cost and complexity of the chips required to implement the standard, and on issues such as power consumption. Manny admitted that in some circumstances the MBOA proposal can generate more interference than the alternative, but said that this only happened in extremely limited cases unlikely to raise practical problems. "We’re committed to the spirit as well as the letter of the FCC approval."

Analysts are concerned about the implications of MBOA and the Motorola/XtremeSpectrum group pursuing their own individual UWB standards. Research group Parks Associates warned back in September that UWB could lose the opportunity to become a mass-market wireless connectivity product unless the standards row was quickly resolved.

"The adoption of a widely accepted industry standard such as 802.15.3a is essential in matching UWB's market reality to its very high expectations," said Kurt Scherf, vice president of research at Parks Associates. "A universal standard is particularly critical among larger consumer electronics and PC vendors, who are seeking a wireless solution that meets their needs across platforms and requirements," Scherf added.

No representative of Motorola or XtremeSpectrum could be contacted at the time of writing.