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Is UWB Spec Spat Over?

Ultra Wide Band (UWB) may prove to be a critical technology in allowing pervasive connectivity for personal computing, but so far has been hamstrung by competing specifications from the MultiBand OFDM Alliance (MBOA) and the IEEE.

That's about to change.

Different UWB specs still exist, but now the WiMedia alliance, a non-profit industry group that promotes wireless personal-area network (WPAN) connectivity and interoperability protocols, has thrown its support behind the MBOA specifications.

The approval could help solidify that group's specification as the lead in the development of UWB-ready devices.

UWB targets high-speed short-range wireless connectivity among numerous consumer electronics and PC devices for an emerging concept known as the wireless personal area network (WPAM). ABI Research has touted UWB as a disruptive technology, and projects that worldwide shipments of UWB-enabled devices by 2009 could be as high as 315 million units.

Major chip manufacturers, such as Texas Instruments , are developing product lines for the technology, which is seen having early impact among consumer devices in the home, thanks to the technology's ability to transmit data at very high rates over short ranges using very little power. UWB would be ideal for transmitting a movie from one device to another, for example.

According to press releases issued by the two groups, the endorsement of the MBOA specification combined with WiMedia's convergence platform under development will provide a foundation for the implementation of wireless versions of 1394 (Firewire), USB, and Internet-Protocol-based application protocols. The WiMedia Alliance in particular believes that consumer demand for wireless USB and Firewire will be the first market drivers of UWB acceptance.

Roberto Aiello, member of the MBOA steering committee, called the agreement significant for both MBOA and the WiMedia Alliance.

"The announcement for WiMedia means that they have altered their plans from waiting for the IEEE 802.15.3a solution, which has been deadlocked for nearly one year, and have embraced the MultiBand OFDM specifications for PHY and MAC, to ensure a complete UWB radio offering for the Wireless USB Promoters Group and 1394 Trade Association," Aiello told internetnews.com.

"For the MBOA, this stands as the final piece of the puzzle that confirms that the uncertainty in the standards forum is over; now the complete ecosystem is in place, and the MBOA PHY and MAC specifications have been selected."

The WiMedia Alliance exists to promote and enable wireless interoperability and connectivity among various consumer devices. The MBOA was formed last year and is led by Intel in an alliance of over 120 companies.

They are dedicated to the adoption its OFDM-based UWB standard specification that was originated by Texas Instruments in March 2003.

The MBOA expects that UWB technology will begin to emerge as a reality at the end of 2004 when Silicon samples are expected from multiple providers. Highly integrated, all-CMOS solutions are expected to be available in 2005.

Despite the fact that WiMedia has "jumped the gun" and not waited for the specifications to be ratified by the IEEE, the MBOA will still press for full acceptance from the global standards body.

"We will continue to pursue IEEE acceptance, though this is more political these days than technical," MBOA's Aiello told internetnews.com. "The MBOA is very active in worldwide regulatory developments and we look forward to more regions accepting UWB regulation."

Regardless of whether the specification is ever ratified, major industry players such as MBOA member Intel have already announced product support based on the MBOA standards.

Intel is also part of the Wireless USB Promoter Group that includes Microsoft , Hewlett-Packard , NEC , Philips Semiconductors, Agere Systems and Samsung Electronics who plan to adhere to the MBOA specification.