Moving Towards Ultra-Wideband (one chip at a time)

Royal Philips Electronics and General Atomics (GA) Monday said they will work together to jointly develop Ultra-Wideband (UWB) wireless communication chipsets and support the standardization process.

UWB, a high-speed, short-range wireless technology – nearly 10 times faster than 802.11b – is used for transferring digital content between devices in different entertainment and computing clusters in the home, such as digital video recorders, set-top boxes, televisions and PCs. The companies say the goal is to offer better performance and cost-effective UWB solutions for consumer and computing applications.

The Memorandum of Understanding allows the two companies to develop wireless communication chipsets for very high bit rate networks, up to 480 Megabits per second (Mbps). San Diego-based GA said the collaboration will benefit them in the form of tapping into Philips’ Radio Frequency (RF) and its QUBiC semiconductor process technology. Philips will license GA’s wireless communication technology, including its Spectral Keying, an advanced multi-band UWB technology.

“Combined with GA’s UWB technology and Philips’ RF leadership and heritage as a consumer company, we intend to develop robust semiconductor solutions targeting this emerging short range wireless technology space,” said GA director Dr. Michael D. Perry.

Initial chipsets are expected to be available in conjunction with emerging standards such as IEEE 802.15.3a – Wireless Personal Area Networks (WPANs). Currently, the IEEE is working with the government on UWB standards.

“The relationship with GA reinforces Philips’ commitment to offer consumers cost-effective wireless connectivity solutions of the future,” said Philips Semiconductors senior vice president of Emerging Businesses Unit Phil Pollok.

The standard has had a rocky road in North America. In February 2002, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved amendments to its Part 15 rules to permit UWB devices to operate on an unlicensed basis under limited conditions. However, certain legislative hurdles will not be addressed until congress reconvenes this month.

Meantime, wireless and networking companies have been chomping at the bit to use UWB in their products. A recently released report by Allied Business Intelligence suggests UWB plays directly into the growing demand for wireless multimedia centers in the home, which are looking to transfer data at 40 Mbps or better for things like streaming video adequately or transferring data from camcorders or televisions wirelessly. According to the industry analyst firm, UWB electronics and chips could reach 45.1 million units by 2007, with revenue of $1.39 billion.

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