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Opinion: UWB outlook gets bleaker

Posted: 27 Feb 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:UWB? Wi-Fi? WiMedia technology? 60GHz?

Staccato Communications CEO Marty Colombatto recently wrote a passionate column defending the UWB technology at EE Times. Colombatto has a clear vested interest in convincing the tech world that UWB is viable and has a bright future, but while he may have scored with some arguments he completely missed with others.

Colombatto is right that the demise of a few companies such as WiQuest and TZero doesn't mean that the UWB is dead. But WiQuest and TZero did present the most compelling UWB demonstrations that I witnessed. He also blames TZero's failure in part on a proprietary non-standard implementation. Well it's far from sure that the WiMedia flavor of UWB that became the standard was the best technology bet.

Colombatto discussed the 60GHz technologies being pushed for wireless HD video streaming. I agree with Colombatto that 60GHz technologies aren't about to usurp UWB. I'm not sure that they will even compete assuming both eventually succeed. But 60GHz technology is for sure way behind the UWB maturity curve. I've written repeatedly that the claims of the 60GHz crowd remind me of the claims I heard from UWB proponents four to five years ago. Colombatto is right that these technologies always take far longer to mature that early proponents expect.

But will UWB mature and succeed? Arguably WLAN took more than a decade to reach mainstream usage. But it did so out of the spotlight and without claims that far exceeded reality in terms of data rate. And just maybe the technology that became 802.11 was a bit more stable that the technology base that underlies UWB. In any event companies like Staccato need to deliver soon before the perception of a dead technology becomes reality.

My biggest gripe with Colombatto's column comes near the end when he addresses 802.11. He heads the section "Wi-Fi Wireless PAN will not work." He then spends the section discussing potential Wi-Fi pitfalls, most of which, have nothing to do with PANs. I don't see a PAN as a video- or A/V-centric interface. A PAN shouldn't necessarily be expected to carry real-time streams. The fact is that Wi-Fi may prove to be an excellent short-range way to connect printers and other peripherals wirelessly. That's clearly Intel's plan with its My Wi-Fi technology. I don't know how Intel's scheme will work, but unlike Colombatto I won't dismiss it.

As for Wi-Fi carrying live video streams (not a PAN application), it might still be the strongest no-new-wires candidate out there. Colombatto seems to dismiss the potential of what a dual-band Wi-Fi implementation might offer where Internet traffic could occupy a 2.4GHz channel while video traffic could use a 5GHz channel. The obstacles to that plan have more to do with range than all of the other roadblocks that Colombatto mentions as he mizes PAN and video-streaming arguments.

Staccato chose a tough path from day one insisting on a mission to develop a single-chip CMOS UWB implementation. There are other companies that have succeeded with such an aggressive approach. Broadcom, for instance, made its name doing things in CMOS when others couldn't. And if Staccato can deliver the CMOS goods in UWB finally, then perhaps Staccato and UWB can succeed. I still don't see it as a sure bet. And the tech industry is rapidly developing alternatives for the roles in which UWB presumably would be dominating by now.

- Maury Wright
Digital Home DesignLine

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