UWB group certifies first products

The WiMedia Alliance has certified the first ultrawideband wireless chipsets.

The industry group behind UWB (ultrawideband) high-speed wireless has certified the first UWB chipsets, a move that helps usher in technologies including wireless USB and the next generation of Bluetooth.

UWB is the radio technology underlying those systems. It is designed to deliver 480M bps (bits per second) throughput over a range of a few meters, making data transfers among PCs, peripherals and consumer electronics equipment faster.

As data storage capacities grow, moving and synchronizing content among heavily loaded devices will take longer unless data-transfer speeds increase. Wired USB 2.0 already delivers as much as 480M bps, but consumers have grown used to connecting devices wirelessly through using IEEE 802.11 wireless LANs. UWB is better for close-range personal area networks than is 802.11, and it helps battery life with lower power consumption, according to supporting industry group, the WiMedia Alliance.

"If you don't want to wait hours to make a transaction, you need a very, very fast communication link," said Stephen Wood, president of the WiMedia Alliance.

WiMedia has certified chipsets from 12 vendors, including Intel, Alereon and Staccato Communications, that include the physical and MAC (media access control) layers for UWB radios. The certification means no matter what those radios are used for, they won't interfere with each other when operating in the same area, he said.

The certified chipsets, in turn, will go into devices that use higher layer protocols such as Bluetooth 3.0 and Wireless USB, Wood said. Third parties, such as the Wireless USB Implementers Forum and the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), are responsible for certifying those implementations. In fact, the Wireless USB group already certified four products in July. The notebooks, adapters and hubs were approved after the essential testing had taken place on the UWB chipsets used in them, but the WiMedia Alliance took longer to finish its certification process, Wood said. The Bluetooth SIG plans to complete its 3.0 specification and start certifying products by the middle of next year.

UWB is good as far as it goes, but it's more important that short-range technologies become easier to use, said Avi Greengart of Current Analysis.

"Their engineers focused on fast, and there's a market for fast," Greengart said. But Bluetooth and even wireless LANs are fairly complicated for most people to use, even though there are some implementations that make them easier, such as on Apple's iPhone, he said.

UWB uses a wide range of frequencies and has triggered worries in some parts of the world about interference with other networks. But now it is legal for use in the European Union, Japan and Korea and is expected to be approved in China, Canada and Singapore by year's end, WiMedia's Wood said. It won't use the same frequencies in all those countries, but vendors should come out with devices that can be switched from one country's mode to another for people who want to roam, he said.

Once a critical mass of products gets into the market, UWB-based technologies could catch on, but the connections consumers are used to won't go away any time soon, Greengart said.

"It's not like every mobile phone maker will suddenly stop using regular Bluetooth," Greengart said.

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