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Freescale Announces UWB Modules

Freescale Semiconductor has released a series of product announcements in partnership with three different Taiwanese companies: Universal Scientific Industrial, Gemtek, and GlobalSun. All three companies are announcing the development of Mini PCI modules which enable Freescale's ultrawideband (UWB) technology to be placed in consumer electronics devices.

Martin Rofheart, Freescale's director of UWB Operations, says the announcements represent a significant step forward for the company. "We consider ourselves in the first phase of the first round of real UWB productization," he says. "This phase has a silicon component, a modules component, a systems component, and a branding and distribution component."

Freescale's XS110 chipset [PDF], which was released commercially last quarter, comprises the silicon component. "Today's announcement is the next step -- a module," Rofheart says. "It's our chips, together with the RF, the antennas, the software, and whatever interfaces and other componentry are necessary to give connectivity functionality -- which is yet another building block for an end product."

The form factor for all three modules is Mini PCI. "Mini PCI allows us to enter the market in real, completed end user products -- flat panel displays, set top boxes, and so forth," Rofheart says. "The chips go from us to the module makers, the module makers complete their solutions, and they deliver them to system ODMs and OEMs."

Next quarter, system ODMs and OEMs will complete work on their products. By the end of this year or the beginning of 2005, the branding and distribution phase will be completed with the commercial availability of consumer products.

"What you're seeing from Freescale UWB Ops is the continued march to product," he says.

In the case of these announcements, that product fits within one class of applications -- set top boxes, DVD players and personal video recorders, and a wide range of different displays. "Effectively, what you're seeing is us completing the lineup of how you access the UWB market from a consumer perspective," Rofheart says.

One of the strengths of Freescale's UWB solution, Rofheart says, is its ability to compete directly with 802.11. In a practical situation, he says, the range of 802.11 isn't much better -- and UWB offers a number of other benefits. "We have lower latency because we don't need the compression and the storage for re-transmission, and we have better picture quality because we have a lot more bandwidth," he says.

At the same time, Rofheart is eager to draw attention to the MultiBand OFDM Alliance's (MBOA) recent request for a waiver [PDF] of Part 15 rules. MultiBand OFDM is the UWB standard that's currently competing with Freescale's favored technology, DS-UWB. The DS-UWB and MultiBand OFDM groups had an acrimonious split in the IEEE's 802.15.3a Task Group earlier this year.

"We think [the request is] pretty well a clarification that MultiBand OFDM is not compliant and needs some kind of regulatory relief," he says.

Freescale's concerns regarding MultiBand OFDM, Rofheart says, are twofold. Not only does the company want to further the success of its own standard, but UWB is new enough that Freescale is also concerned about how the technology is viewed in a broader sense. "The first time UWB causes harmful interference, it will cause a setback to the whole industry," he says. "So we want to see some caution there."

With Freescale already far ahead of any company in the MultiBand OFDM Alliance in terms of product development, Rofheart says, he's confident that DS-UWB will remain the technology of choice for ultrawideband.

"Typically you don't have two network technologies serving the same application -- it's one or the other," he says. "And I think that will be the case here."