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Another UWB startup shuts down

Posted: 23 Apr 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:UWB? startup shutdown? Wireless USB? HDMI?

UWB startup Radiospire Networks Inc. has announced it is closing its doors, leaving three remaining UWB startups committed to the technology despite a string of bad news over the last nine months.

Radiospire managed to produce a first generation chip, AirHook. It demonstrated Gbit/s performance, aimed at replacing HDMI cables for digital TVs before investors pulled the plug.

"Our investors decided late last summer to pursue a merger and acquisition exit, and the timing couldn't have been worse for usno one was buying anything in the fall," said Tan Rao, co-founder and the first CEO of the company. "We are winding the company down and selling the assets now," he said.

Radiospire filed about 40 patents one of which has issued, a broad patent on HDMI cable replacement. The company had planned a device using 60GHz networking.

The startup was launched in 2005, after most of the companies focused on Wireless USB had been funded. So Radiospire made its focus HDMI cable replacements for digital TVs, facing competitors such as Amimon using a variant of Wi-Fi and SiBeam using 60GHz technology.

No one has yet delivered good performance at a reasonable price for that application, Rao claimed. "Moving from the orchestrated demo at CES to the consumer's home with real products has been difficult for everyone," he said.

Rao said he purchased a Sharp wireless TV converter in Japan that used Amimon chips and cost $1,000. "We were looking at $299 to $399 for an aftermarket retail system which is still too high," he added.

"Having both price and quality is very difficult to do, but someone will get there eventually," he said.

UWB survivors
It's been a hard road for UWB startups. WiQuest folded in October. Staccato Communications and Artimi merged to pool resources in November. PulseLink slashed staff down to a bare bones operation late last year. Tzero closed in February, and the WiMedia Alliance, the UWB industry group, folded in March.

"The Wireless USB crowd is imploding," said Rao. "Those still in existence are hunkering down, and I don't see a lot of traction. They have a lot of competition from 802.11n which is doing a lot of what the WiMedia Alliance promised," he said.

"I was pretty bullish on UWB's prospects for a long time, but no one seems to agree with me," said Brian O'Rourke, a principal analyst at In-Stat. "I am starting to think [UWB's] time may have passed," he said.

With the closure of Radiospire, Tzero and others, "basically UWB is dead in consumer electronics, and it's not doing very well in PCs," he said.

A core of Wireless USB proponents is soldiering on. They claim their current or coming chips will see design wins in a variety of notebooks in 2010 when the new Intel Calpella platform debuts.

Fujitsu, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, NEC, Toshiba and Lenovo all have certified Wireless USB products covering 41 different models, said Jeff Ravencraft, chair of the USB Implementers Forum.

Most notebook makers only support UWB on a few models as an option customers can request on a build-to-order basis. One source said Dell is refreshing its supply of UWB chips from defunct WiQuest with orders for chips from Taiwan's Realtek.

"Several notebook OEMs who are still committed to including Wireless USB in some Calpella models have not yet made final vendor selections, and Staccato is aggressively pursuing these designs with our Ripcord2 solution," said Jeff Chang, VP of marketing for Staccato.

"The problem has been with available supply of chips that meet all requirements," he added.

Regulatory issues have largely been removed as companies such as Staccato release products supporting low and high band groups. Laggard countries such as Canada and China have now opened the door to use of UWB products, he added.

Chang noted that all new technologiesincluding Bluetooth and Wi-Fiwent through periods where a large crop of startups were cut back to just two or three that survived. Staccato raised $20 million in November when it merged with Artimi.

Hope on Capella notebooks
For its part, Wisair plans to ship by the end of the year a chip for notebooks that supports the upper bands and the native Wireless USB host controller interface aimed at the Calpella notebooks. It is shipping a chip for peripherals today in quantities of hundreds of thousands, said Asaf Avidan, Wisair's vice president of marketing.

Wisair raised $24 million about a year ago and has since cut about 15 percent of its staff.

Alereon, the other UWB survivor, has trimmed back to a staff of 45 people and has adequate financing at the moment. It expects to see Toshiba ship a docking station using its chips in about a month, said a company spokesman.

The USB-IF will release version 1.1 of the Wireless USB spec by June, Ravencraft said. It will include support for so-called upper bands at 6 GHz and above, greater power efficiency and new device association models including the one used by NFC.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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