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Staccato, SK Telecom push for UWB in PANs

Posted: 01 Feb 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:UWB? utrawideband? PAN? mobile phone? Bluetooth?

Staccato Communications Inc. and its carrier partner, SK Telecom, are staking out new territory in the development of personal-area networks (PANs) using UWB technology. The companies are teaming up to implement a mobile-phone UWB solution that can be used simultaneously for Bluetooth, higher-bandwidth UWB and multipoint WiNet services.

SK Telecom will use the ARM9-based UWB chipset from Staccato together with Staccato's protocol-independent kernel to implement the UWB solution.

After the IEEE's efforts for a single UWB PAN melted down in 2005, most UWB vendors retreated to the USB replacement standard touted by the WiMedia Alliance. Only in the last few months have UWB chipset developers broadened their imaginations again, looking for TV transmission and multipoint-networking standards that move beyond USB.

SK Telecom is not identifying the handset maker developing the prototypes for its network, although multiple OEMs are interested in the work.

The WiMedia Alliance helped define such implementations with its common radio platform for UWB, though interest in the platform has taken a back seat to the introduction of interoperable wireless USB platforms.

Milestone alliance
Mark Bowles, VP of business development and marketing at Staccato, said his company's alliance with the carrier marked a milestone in several dimensions.

UWB links in cellphone could simplify video connection.

"First, this was driven by the carrier. They not only took the initiative with usthey prodded handset manufacturers into developing prototypes. I'm not sure how long it would have taken for handset OEMs to look at this on their own," Bowles said. "Second, SKT is the one driving the new application ideas. They were among the first with terrestrial video, with W-CDMA. They had an early CyWorld social-networking environment, and they have specific ideas for using UWB that go far beyond Bluetooth." CyWorld is a popular community Website operated by SKT.

IMS Research estimates that this is the first major deployment of UWB by a mobile carrier, or at least the first to be made public. IMS market research analyst Fiona Thomson said SKT's public drive is bound to accelerate other wireless operators' interest in promoting UWB, but it is still uncertain how the early push to UWB will influence completion of a new high-speed Bluetooth standard.

In recent months, members of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group have worked with the WiMedia Alliance to develop common Bluetooth-UWB profiles, under the assumption that bandwidth evolution for home-based PANs makes more sense than a direct Bluetooth-UWB battle, or even Bluetooth obsolescence. At the same time, the SIG is working on its own high-speed follow-on to Bluetooth. But Bowles said a clever OEM or carrier should think beyond serial interconnect speeds, which is why he hopes other carriers will follow SK Telecom's lead.

"They are talking with storefront-based retailers about offering up content to handhelds as users pass by, as incentives to come to the store," he said. "Now remember, this was talked about a lot with Bluetooth, and never materialized. If SKT can prove how to make money with models that use higher-bandwidth services, then other carriers will sit up and pay attention."

UWB-Bluetooth combo
Thomson of IMS doubts UWB will supplant Bluetooth in the handset. Instead, a UWB-Bluetooth combination will be used. Applications that favor low power, such as handset-to-headset connections, will still rely on Bluetooth, while UWB will be used for large file transfers, when higher data rates are necessary.

SK Telecom's concepts for using the WiNet protocol in conjunction with social-networking environments are attracting the attention of such U.S. social-networking sites as Facebook and MySpace. Bowles said plans for CyWorld could include group sharing of video clips in the short-range space represented by UWB PANs. If media players with embedded networking follow the Microsoft Zune model, the shared applications could become just as important in audio files, Bowles added.

Critical market analyses have suggested that many wireless operators were cool to PANs operating at frequencies under 6GHz. Bowles remarked this was not true, provided chipset manufacturers offer good speeds in Mode 1 applications between 3GHz and 5GHz, and also have migration paths for services in the so-called Mode 2 scaling to 10GHz.

The current implementation SK is using for Korean networks taps the first of three frequency bands in Band Group 1, centered on 3.432GHz. As yet, there is no universal stampede to higher-frequency band groups, Bowles said, since higher frequencies can negatively impact range.

"When you talk about several hundred megabits per second, a new set of applications opens up beyond Bluetooth," Bowles said, citing mobile-phone interconnect to TV and automotive displays, and interconnecting with high-bandwidth content offered by retailers in public spaces.

When developers become familiar with multipoint networking defined by WiNet, another application base will emerge, Bowles said, hopefully making the PAN as complex and rich as a LAN or WAN.

- Loring Wirbel
EE Times




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