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Ecma Releases UWB Standard based on WiMedia

It was in August that the WiMedia Alliance said it would work with the Geneva-based nonprofit industry association Ecma International to establish WiMedia's multiband orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (MB-OFDM) ultrawideband (UWB) technology as the global UWB standard. And here it is.

It's actually two specifications. There is ECMA-368 for defining the PHY and Media Access Control (MAC) layers of a system running in 3.1 up to 10.6 GHz, as well as ECMA-369, which describes the communications between the PHY and MAC. In this first incarnation, the standards are okayed for use in the United States only, though as regulatory changes come about, WiMedia expects the standard to be eventually approved for use in Europe, Japan, Korea, China, Australia and elsewhere.

WiMedia expects to see this UWB technology used in products supporting Certified Wireless USB and, eventually, a high-speed version of Bluetooth.

"This allows the industry to stop vacillating on where standards will go, what the industry will align around," says Stephen Wood, president of the Wi-Media Alliance, who has a day job with Intel's Communication Technology Lab. "Having it nailed down, we can avoid fragmentation and simplify life for consumers."

The fragmentation he mentions is, of course, both a cause and effect of the UWB fight in the IEEE 802.15 Task Group 3a. That group was charged with creating the standard for a high data rate wireless personal area network (WPAN) technology called ultrawideband (UWB). A split formed in early 2004 when the MBOA Group (which later merged with WiMedia) left the table, blaming Motorola for preventing MBOA from getting the 75 percent vote needed to become the standard. Motorola and its offshoot Freescale Semiconductor formed the UWB Forum, whose members prefer the technology approach called Direct Sequence-UWB (DS-UWB). The two groups have been at odds ever since.

Going with Ecma instead of IEEE gives WiMedia an international standard -- it just happens to have a headquarters in Europe instead of the United States. Ecma is perhaps best known with coming up with the worldwide standards used for DVD video playback. It's also faster. Wood says Ecma has "cleaner rules about engagement" than the IEEE. Perhaps it helps that Freescale does not belong, though WiMedia is quick to point out that Freescale could have joined Ecma at any time and has been well aware of what WiMedia was working toward.

Wood says that it's a "general principle" between standard development organizations such as Ecma and IEEE "that you try to have just one standard per each area of technology... Ecma now has that positioning [for UWB.]"

That doesn't mean IEEE isn't looking at high-speed WPANs anymore, but at the January IEEE meeting, Wood says, WiMedia members will seek to terminate the work of the 802.15.3a group. If the members can get a 75 percent supermajority vote for the withdrawal of the task group's PAR -- the Project Authorization Request -- then all work there would be done.

If they don't get the vote, it's unknown what would happen, but it's likely that the UWB Forum and WiMedia would keep things deadlocked for an indeterminate amount of time, just as they have for the last two years.

As with the IEEE, Ecma does not recognize WiMedia as an organization in and of itself. Membership in both standards bodies is based on individual voting, though the individuals usually represent a company. WiMedia has many members, including heavy hitters like Intel, HP, Microsoft, Philips, Sony, Texas Instruments and Samsung.

WiMedia is happy not only with the progress with Ecma, but also with the relationship Ecma has with other international standards bodies such as ISO and ETSI. "It is our intension to take [our technology] to an ISO standard as well," says Wood.

Does this do away with the fight for UWB mindshare? Wood thinks it should, especially because he believes the term "ultrawideband" shouldn't be used at all. "From a consumer perspective, we hope 'ultrawideband' is never heard," says Wood. "We expect 'Bluetooth' and 'Wireless USB' to be heard, but not UWB. That should play only at the silicon and manufacturer level."

In related news, WiMedia member Staccato Communications said today it would launch operations in Europe to help push the WiMedia UWB standard with help from Ecma, ETSI, ITU and the UK's Office of Communications. The company makes System-in-Package chip solutions based on the WiMedia common radio platform that reportedly have speeds of up to 480Mbps when used for Certified Wireless USB connections.