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TI, Intel and CE Companies Form UWB Juggernaut

Hoping to accelerate the ultrawideband (UWB) standards process, Texas Instruments and the Intel-led MultiBand Coalition have formed a formidable new industry alliance to push their proposal for the 802.15.3a specification.

The Dallas-based chipmaker is at the forefront of the new MultiBand OFDM Alliance (MBOA), which will present a proposal for the high-speed, short-range wireless standard at next week's meeting of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in San Francisco that merges TI's orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) approach with the multiband technology advocated by Intel, General Atomics, Philips and the rest of the former MultiBand Coalition (now members of the new Alliance). Consumer electronics giants Sony, Samsung Electronics, Panasonic and NEC are also backing the merged proposal.

TI, Intel and the other members of the Alliance have been working to merge the ideas in their various proposals since the May IEEE meeting in Dallas, where 13 companies presented their ideas for the high-speed alternative physical layer (PHY) specification for short-range wireless communications (110 Mbps at 10 meters and up to 480 Mbps at 1 meter). Anuj Batra, a member of technical staff at TI's DSPS R&D Center, said there were already a number of similarities between the OFDM and multiband proposals, which made it easier for the two camps to come together.

"We started with a baseline OFDM proposal and then started to consider other options to address some of the areas that some of the other companies within the group felt strongly about," he said. For example, there were concerns about multiple piconets, so the new merged proposal includes an optional seven-band mode that is backwards compatible with the three-band mode that TI had originally proposed.

With TI and the MultiBand Coalition joining forces, then, the UWB community is essentially divided into two groups: MBOA; and XtremeSpectrum and Motorola. The latter favor a dual-band, direct sequence code division multiple access (CDMA) approach for the standard.

Next week's meeting will mark the first time companies will have an opportunity to vote on the proposals presented to the task group. The first step is what's called a low hurdle vote to select the top six proposals. After that, the down select process begins, where voting members begin eliminating proposals one by one; with each vote, the proposal with the least number of votes drops out.

With all the merger activity that's already taken place, members of MBOA believe things may move very quickly. "We think there may be less than 10 proposals now in the overall picture, so if that's the case, we may not have the initial round of low hurdle vote and just go right into the down select," said Steve Turner, TI's UWB business development manager.

The goal is to get through the down-select process as quickly as possible in order to ensure that a standard is completed in a timely fashion, said Turner. The target date to complete the PHY specification is August 2004.

"Even once this voting is completed, there's still the industry comment period and the final sponsor ballot, and that's going to take six months on its own, maybe more, so this really relates to whether we get a standard out next year or not," said Turner. "I know a lot of companies are hoping to be able to put out products as soon as possible, so it's definitely an important factor for us."