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Ultra Wideband Plagued By Vendor Infighting

Personal area networking could free your office of cables, but a war over standards threatens its adoption.
THE HOPE
Personal area networking will put an end to the snake pit of cables around your desk within a year.

THE CATCH
Vendor rivalries mean not all devices will talk to each other, and security risks barely have been scratched.

Fed up with incompatible plugs and sockets on PCs, PDAs, and consumer electronic devices? How about all those wires around your feet? If the vendors pushing Ultra Wideband technology come through, all of these issues will be gone within a year. Short-range, high-speed wireless links will replace the tangle of USB cables, headphone cords, and video leads in homes and offices, they promise.

And the stuff works. Ultra Wideband is up to 160 times faster than Bluetooth, so it can stream high-definition video or transfer PowerPoint presentations in a few seconds. The first products, due this summer, are dongles that plug into USB ports, using a wireless transmitter to replace the cable between a PC and any USB device such as a printer or flash drive. By year's end, makers of consumer electronics, PDAs, and even PC monitors will be building Ultra Wideband support into their products.

So it's cool, it works, and it meets a need. If only that were enough. Ultra Wideband is plagued by a tired tech industry plotline: Its backers have split into two rival groups, each promoting a different standard. Intel leads the WiMedia Alliance, which has the most big-name supporters; Freescale Semiconductor leads the UWB Forum, which is closer to getting products into stores. Although the two standards do the same thing, they aren't compatible, and in January, the IEEE gave up trying to get the groups to work together. The dialogue is predictable.

"Our system works with your existing USB hardware and drivers, but Intel wants you to buy a new PC," says Martin Rofheart, director of UWB operations at Freescale.

"Freescale's system isn't fast enough," counters Jim Meyer, VP of business development at chipset maker Alereon, a WiMedia member.

WiMedia won a key victory in March when the 4,000-vendor Bluetooth Special Interest Group said the 2008 Bluetooth upgrade will use WiMedia. That's two years away--probably a good waiting period to see where the chips fall on Ultra Wideband.

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