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WiQuest closes shop due to UWB's low demand

Posted: 05 Nov 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:wireless? USB? UWB?

WiQuest Communications Inc. has officially closed its doors, the first of several casualties to fall among UWB chip designers. The company employed about 120 workers focused on the wireless USB protocol. About a dozen mainly venture-backed firms have been pursuing UWB to be used for wireless USB links on consumer and computer gear. One analyst predicted a shakeout in UWB chip makers earlier this year because of the slow adoption of the technology that has been plagued by cost, performance, power usage and regulatory issues.

"We've been looking for many options for awhile now including new investors and acquisitions, but none looked like positive alternatives to our investors so we decided to shut the doors," said Todd Brown, VP, worldwide sales, WiQuest.

"I think this is a black eye for UWB in the short-term, but it opens more opportunities for the remaining players," said Brian O'Rourke, principal analyst, InStat.

"WiQuest was certainly the leader in first-generation UWB silicon shipments. However, it seemed to have difficulty moving to a one-chip solution that delivered the upperband support necessary for worldwide acceptance," he added.

WiQuest was shipping a two-chip wireless USB solution adopted as an optional add-on to notebooks from Dell, Lenovo and Toshiba as well as consumer devices such as hubs from Belkin, D-Link and others. It was sampling a single chip device launched in August.

"The thing that's really painful about this is we were confident we were number one in the space," said Brown. "But we were at about a one-percent attach rate in notebooks and needed to be at 5 percent to 10 percent and growing," he added.

Faltering capacity to buy
"OEMs want to pay less than $5 for UWB chips, an expectation set by Bluetooth and Wi-Fi silicon," Brown said. Analysts predicted second-generation chips coming to market in 2009 may be able to hit such price points, but not today's parts.

He added that system makers want power use of less than 300mW, especially for handsets. "Chips are consuming close to a watt today," he noted.

Earlier technology
First generation wireless USB chips were criticized for delivering less than 50Mbit/s performance, in part due to non-native implementations and overhead of the USB protocol. On the regulatory front, UWB is still not approved to be used in all geographies, and some areas employ different spectrum bands for UWB.

Brown predicted other UWB startups may soon find themselves in a similar position. "If you don't have two years of funding, it will be difficult to survive," he said.

In September, Focus Enhancements Inc., a supplier of UWB and other wireless chipsets filed for bankruptcy.

Less than 100,000 UWB-enabled devices shipped in 2007, according to InStat.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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