Ultra-Wideband Coming Soon--Now What?

After years of standards battles, products using the extremely low power, short-range wireless technology will appear later this year. But is this another VHS vs. Betamax situation?
UWB In Computers And Mobile Devices

With both groups’ versions of UWB coming to the market in the U.S. and working on worldwide deployment, a lot hangs on what form UWB appears in. While the initial focus appears to be in high-end consumer electronics, it’s mobile devices that will make UWB fly in the enterprise.

And when will it be available? The short answer is: later this year. After years of trying, Freescale will finally have its first partner product to market in the form of that Haier HDTV set in China. Fourth quarter should also be the debut of real silicon from WiMedia Alliance members and supporters.

Rofheart says all the pieces are in place for demonstrations they showed in 2005 to appear in equipment in 2006, possibly including a unique voice over IP system that can handle 75 to 100 simultaneous calls over a 25-meter range: UWB has more bandwidth and less interference than Wi-Fi over that distance.

But the high initial cost of UWB chipsets—WiMedia’s Wood says about $15 a set initially—mean that it will only show up in high-end consumer electronics first, and possibly throughout 2006.

As the cost of chipsets drop, UWB will finally make it into the enterprise, cutting those cables, reducing the complexity of managing mobile worker synchronization and data. What Wi-Fi did for IP and what Bluetooth was supposed to do for mobile devices UWB will certainly bring to the office.

In the end, will there be only one UWB? Possibly not. The consumer electronics market and computer markets while converging—as one could see at this year’s Consumer Electronic Show in January–are still miles apart. What works in a TV set and camcorder may not be what winds up on an Intel motherboard or Kodak professional camera.

The industry proposes, the market disposes. And Freescale doesn’t feel too lonely out there on its own. Commenting on the WiMedia dogpile on the MBOA and related standards, Rofheart said, “It’s quite possible in my view that when you get to a January timeframe, the pendulum has swung back in the other direction pretty significantly.”

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