Two of the major groups in ultrawideband development, the WiMedia Alliance and the Multiband OFDM Alliance (MBOA), have merged.
The two industry bodies have been closely aligned for some time: WiMedia previously endorsed MBOA’s proposed UWB standard in April 2004, and the groups shared the majority of their directors. The merger was announced at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco on Wednesday.
"Industry will benefit from a single strategic focus for specification definitions and regulatory organisations." said Kursat Kimyacioglu, director of business line development for business connectivity solutions at Philips and a vice-president of the WiMedia Alliance.
"The merged organisation will have a single global UWB standard, and a single focal point for worldwide UWB spectrum regulations. It will be a single, open forum," Kimyacioglu added.
The WiMedia-MultiBand OFDM Alliance promises a tight schedule for the delivery of products, which are expected to start to appear later this year. "The physical layer specification will be delivered some time this month, and the media access definition in May", said Kimyacioglu, referring to the two basic components of the UWB stack. "Towards the end of the year, we’ll announce IP application profiles, as well as certification and interoperability programmes."
The first products will be existing Firewire/IEEE 1394 and USB devices, modified to use UWB as a 480 Mbps radio link over a couple of metres. "USB and 1394 are the most direct port of the easiest applications. A lot of people believe that long term everything becomes IP, and over time that will end up dominating," said Kevin Kahn, senior fellow at Intel, which was a founder member of MBOA.
"Consumer electronics companies want UWB to replace cables and simplify set-up. Thirty percent of consumer electronics returns are because the consumer couldn’t set up the equipment", said Jeff Ravencraft, technology strategist at Intel and chairman of the Wireless USB Promoter Group. "The general consumer doesn’t have a clue."
The merged body does not bring in any new members from the major rival UWB standard, DS-UWB. This group, led by Motorola and Freescale, has already demonstrated consumer devices using its technology, most recently with a Samsung mobile phone at the 3GSM trade show in Cannes last month, but the two groups remain resolutely incompatible.
Attempts to reach agreement on a single UWB standard in the industry body tasked with that responsibility, IEEE 802.15 WPAN Task Group 3, have failed. Last month, American company Pulselink announced a third incompatible variety of UWB, although this has yet to attract support from other companies.
Because of regulatory complications to do with what Kahn described as "a technical issue with measurement", MBOA’s UWB standard is not currently approved by the US regulator, the FCC. "It’s purely a technical violation of the rules, we’re operating within the limits set by the FCC" said Kahn. "We expect to get a waiver very soon."