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Tzero to sample UWB chip consuming
Posted: 03 Feb 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:chip UWB? chip mobile? Tzero UWB wireless?

Startup Tzero Technologies hopes 2009 will be the year UWB establishes a foothold. The company has sketched out plans for a new mobile chip that is the latest piece of its two-pronged approach to the market.

Tzero plans to sample by June a single UWB chip that consumes less than 1W and is aimed at mobile devices. It supports the broad range of so-called Band Groups 1-6 needed to comply with spectrum rules in different countries and delivers TCP-level throughput of about 100Mbit/s or greater over distances of less than 30m.

The chip should be in production by the end of the year at prices trending toward $5, a price OEMs have set as a watermark for adoption. Tzero will support WiMedia protocols including the planned Bluetooth 3.0 protocol for UWB.

A Bluetooth SIG spokeswoman, however, noted there is no planned release date for that protocol. The Bluetooth group is focused on releasing its protocol for Wi-Fi nets in Q3, with UWB support on the back burner given the nascent state of the UWB market.

'Bad idea'
One protocol Tzero will not be backing is wireless USB. In early implementations, the wireless USB protocol dragged down performance to less than 30Mbit/s, in part due to use of non-native devices that required translation to and from the wired USB protocol.

"From the beginning, I thought wireless USB was a bad idea," said Rajeev Krishnamoorthy, Tzero founder, who returned as CEO in late 2007 after a company re-organization. Wireless USB "competes with Wi-Fi as another data networking transport," he added.

The new Tzero chip will compete with the similar Ripcord2 chip announced by Staccato Communications in September. However, Ripcord2 will support wireless USB, an Intel-led initiative.

It's been a tough year for UWB. Startups Focus Enhancements and WiQuest folded in the fall, and Intel said it ceased development of an internal UWB chip in favor of investing in startups such as Staccato. In November, Staccato merged with Artimi, another UWB startup.

The technology has faced many hurdles, including lack of spectrum allocation in some countries. China's regulators, for example, formally announced that it has approved UWB for use.

To date, many UWB products have shown relatively low performance, high power consumption and cost, and lack of integration. The next generation represented by Ripcord2 and the new Tzero chip appear to be hitting all the right specs.

Timing: key for startups
The only question remaining will be whether the companies can deliver the chips and if, in the current recession, OEMs see value in adding the technology to their products. Timing will be key for the startups.

For its part, Tzero raised about $18 million in venture capital from its investors in March 2008. Krishnamoorthy hopes that lasts until revenue from volume orders kick in, probably next year.

"I don't think there's any doubt the market for wireless video is there, and there are promising technologies to do it," Krishnamoorthy said. "Early 2010 is what we are shooting for, although we are expecting reasonable revenues this year with fall product releases from OEMs."

One company, Geffen, is already shipping a box using an existing Tzero chip set to transmit high definition TV signals wirelessly. It is based on a first-generation card that uses a JPEG 2000 compression chip from Analog Devices Inc.

Tzero is now completing design of a second-generation card that will use H.264 compression chips from Cavium Networks and other suppliers. The upgraded compression will lower latency so that boxes based on it will be fast enough to support video games, something the current design cannot handle without noticeable delays.

Krishnamoorthy said Tzero is working on as many as three design wins with top TV makers in Japan that should be announced in Q3. Some will embed the devices in their TVs. Hitachi used Tzero's first-generation card in an external box that shipped in Japan, but said it will not ship that design in the United States.

In this area, Tzero competes with the 60GHz technology from SiBeam, which claims to deliver up to 4Gbit/s, enough bandwidth to support uncompressed video. LG Electronics, Panasonic and Toshiba demonstrated at CES TVs, mostly using external boxes, supporting the SiBeam technology and claiming they will ship systems in Q2.

The Tzero approach will actually be lower cost and power, and more robust than the 60GHz technology, he said. The Tzero chips consume 1W average and less than 2.5W peak. Devices using them can sell for as little as $50, he added.

In a demo, Tzero's devices worked through walls and with people passing in front of devices without a glitch at ranges up to 30m. By contrast, the 60GHz technology cannot penetrate walls and uses a special antenna to avoid interference when people move into the signal path.

Krishnamoorthy said the 60GHz technology will also need compression. HDTVs are already moving from 60- to 120- and 240Hz to play sports and action scenes without blur. They are also eventually moving from 8- to 10- and 12bit color, he said.

That evolution will drive bandwidth needs from more than 4Gbit/s today to as much as 15Gbit/s in the future, he said. "Trying to handle uncompressed video wirelessly is a fool's game," he said.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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