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Standards wrangle threatens Ultrawideband

Analysts worry that continuing delays in UWB standard-making could slow adoption. Meanwhile, Intel says it might bypass the approval process altogether
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor and  Graeme Wearden, Contributor
Ultrawideband's (UWB) chances of becoming a mass-market wireless connectivity product will be hamstrung unless the IT industry can quickly agree on standards for the technology, analysts are warning.

UWB is expected to take a major role within the electronics industry in the next few years, being used in PCs, computer peripherals, gadgets and even TVs and projectors. By 2008, it is likely to be used by at least 150 million devices, research group Parks Associates predicted this week.

Although there is considerable excitement about the potential of UWB, two industry groups are still pushing different ideas about what the standard, known as 802.15.3a, should be. The Multiband OFDM Alliance is backed by Intel and Texas Instruments, while its rival group is headed up by Motorola, XtremeSpectrum and ParthusCeva. At an IEEE meeting earlier this month, the 802.15.3a working group failed to back favourite Multiband OFDM Alliance's plans by the necessary 75 percent.

Parks Associates warned that the market will suffer if a decision is not made quickly; Intel, one of the key proponents in the dispute, threatened at the Intel Developer Forum last week to split from the discussions, citing as a reason the slow pace of discussions.

A final decision could now be made in November, but should Intel fail to win the day then or at the meeting after that, it could take the dramatic step of moving ahead independently of the working group.

Speaking before the latest 802.15.3a delay, Pat Gelsinger, Intel's chief technical officer, said that unless an agreement is reached soon then the chipmaker would consider creating a special interest group (SIG) to set a standard independent of the IEEE.

"If agreement isn't reached in the next three meetings we may consider an alternate strategy such as a SIG," he said. "We have strong confidence of getting it if not this time, then in November or at the subequent meeting. Nothing else is close."

Parks Associates believes that a standard must be agreed on, and quickly.

"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. We believe that UWB could very well be that unifying communications technology," Scherf explained.

Unlike other wireless technologies, UWB is not restricted to a single small area of the radio spectrum. Instead, it covers a wide range of frequencies, but at such as low power that it does not interfere with other devices that are also using the space.

UWB is also very quick, and could allow connections speeds of up to 500Mbps across a distance of one metre, or 110Mbps over 10 metres. Experts predict that it has the potential to replace the cables that are used to connect devices today.

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