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Ultrawideband's future as personal area networking technology seems dim: With leading UWB chipmaker WiQuest going out of business last week, with very few devices on the market two years after UWB was supposed to have its big introduction, and with apparent little interest in that changing, it's hard to see how UWB winds up in printers, cameras, laptops, desktops, and hard drives. It's not that UWB will disappear (likely): the technology has other uses, some niche, and some as mainstream as being one of the options for wireless high-definition streaming as an HDMI cable replacement.
Alereon, another chipmaker, announced today that it would acquire Certified Wireless USB assets of Stonestreet One, a firm involved in tests of UWB in mobile devices, like smartphones. Alereon's CEO Eric Broockman would like to spin the story, as he writes in his blog, that there's a very long timeframe for most new technology adoption, and that market leaders are rarely the first to capitalize on the advantages.
Right. But with Intel, a leading UWB backer, seemingly having shifted its interests; with a leading UWB chipmaker gone; with just Lenovo and Toshiba offering any kind of UWB option; with no word on any UWB-enabled peripherals going into Christmas; well, I could go on.
Broockman is certainly correct that there's always a shakeout, but I'm surprised how long UWB has been under development without any deep niche adoption. Early flavors of Wi-Fi were in devices sometimes years before standards were ratified. Airgo, for instance, had its MIMO flavor of 802.11 on the market long before competitors, and it was acquired by Qualcomm (disappearing from sight, but not unsuccessfully in terms of the investors' interest or in spreading MIMO as an essentially mandatory element of 802.11n).
I wrote more about this at Ars Technica along with the historical background.
The Bluetooth SIG will create a version that runs over Wi-Fi: Bluetooth comprises applications and radio standards. The applications include standard profiles that developers use to add features like keyboard and input device access, file transfer, and dial-up networking. The Bluetooth SIG has a long-range plan to keep Bluetooth relevant by essentially adding more radio technologies underneath, not just the 1 Mbps version found in Bluetooth 1.x and the 3 Mbps version in the Enhanced Data Rate (EDR) part of 2.x+EDR.
Ultrawideband (UWB) was one of the preferred newer radio standards, something they decided on supporting in March 2006, because UWB seemed to be near term at that point, and was part of the original migration path for personal area networking in the IEEE 802.16 group that Bluetooth has some coordination with. (UWB was to be the radio standard for 802.16.3a until the group disbanded over friction caused by a now-dropped original flavor of UWB from what is now Motorola spin-off Freescale.) UWB is low-power and low-range, making it ideal.
But it's hardly on the market yet and is way too expensive. This pushes back Bluetooth over UWB in handsets to something like 2009. TechWorld notes that UWB vendors say that UWB handsets will be on the market (in Asia) within six months. Of course, UWB chipmakers and manufacturers have been telling me since 2006 that UWB products will be shipping in a few months. They weren't lying; complications ensued. I accept that. But I'm now Missouri as regards UWB in shipping hardware.
As a result, TechWorld reports, the SIG's chair, ironically a Motorola employee, said that they would focus on building Bluetooth over Wi-Fi. Details aren't available, and one UWB vendor says that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are incompatible due to security models.
Gizmodo points out that the "wireless" element of Iogear's Wireless USB hub and dongle doesn't wash: The wireless part is the missing USB or network cable, but you still have to use cables to connect your USB devices to the hub, which itself requires AC power. Gizmodo found problems in setting up the Iogear system, which runs $200, and thought performance was poor. Separate drivers were required for the dongle and the hub.
These criticisms are all pretty justified. Ultrawideband (UWB) networking in the form of Wireless USB can't shine until UWB radios and drivers are installed at the factory on laptops and peripherals. UWB chip costs are already dropping, and it's likely that $500-and-higher electronics, like cameras and camcorders, will sport UWB by next year, as will computers. When you can associate a UWB device directly with your computer, no hub required, its utility will be much higher.
I've been waiting for that day to come for, oh, five years now. Maybe in 2008! (A technology reporter has to have constant optimism mixed with a jaded outlook.)
AP tech writer Peter Svensson says that Belkin's worked, Iogear's is flawed, neither is worth the cost: If you're thinking about being an early ultrawideband (UWB) hub adopter, Svensson is more or less saying, is it worth $200 to replace a single cable? I tend to agree, although I'm glad some product is on the market. $200 for a USB 2.0 hub that requires AC power on one end and a Windows driver on the other seems a bit much. Svensson was able to get Belkin's hub to work just fine and approved of the speed. Iogear's suffered from flaws, though the company acknowledged this and promises revised drivers.
With the approval this week of 12 platform reference designs from major makers that conform to the WiMedia Alliance's core specifications, expect that within 3 to 6 months we'll see the "real" UWB: adapters designed to work with many different kinds of devices; the ability to pair equipment and mix and match adapters; and adapters built into some early, higher-end peripherals.
UWB can operate at rates of up 480 Mbps over a few feet, and will best work when and if UWB radios are built into cameras, printers, and hard drives as an alternative or supplement to wired USB 2.0; and when PCs are sold with UWB as a standard option (like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) or as a cheap upgrade.
The WiMedia Alliance has a slew of announcements today on certified devices: The ultrawideband (UWB) standard for personal area networks (PANs) that's emerged under the guidance of the WiMedia Alliance hit a big milestone today, one that will finally bring us closer to a bunch of interoperable and interesting devices on the marketplace. Twelve platforms from the whole range of UWB chipmakers and system designers were certified by the group for its Common Radio Platform. What that means is that at the physical (PHY) layer and the media access control (MAC) layer, devices will interact to avoid interference, handle coordination, and work together.
This is a big milestone that goes beyond the Certified Wireless USB announcements in the summer, as the USB part is an application, or a type of data standard that runs over the MAC layer, which in turns uses the PHY for communication. This interoperability is a key part of establishing the broad range of devices and applications that work together.
With certification set, end-user equipment makers or OEMs can start integrating UWB without fear that silicon would need to change or that a consumer electronics device would suddenly need a firmware upgrade, which is typically problematic on mass-market devices that lack interfaces for easy upgrade. These platforms that were certified are complete modules which can be tied into existing devices, like a mini-PCI or smaller form factor. At some point, UWB winds up being a chip that's just soldered right on the main board of a device, but that kind of integration typically comes far later than module-based add-ins.
UWB in this first form offers speeds of up to 480 Mbps within a few feet, and 110 Mbps at up to a few dozen feet.
Microsoft slashes Zune price to $200: According to this post from someone on the Zune team, this is just part of the normal product cycle, dropping the price by 20 percent. Uh, yeah, just like Apple keeps dropping the price on the iPod--oh, wait, no, they keep increasing the features (and occasionally moderately dropping the price). You drop price when supply is high. The same blog entry says customer satisfaction is 94 percent--right, those 94 Microsoft employees who bought them are happy, while the six non-Softies are not. (Zune, you may recall, has Wi-Fi built in, but can't synchronize or purchase music over Wi-Fi; neither can the iPhone.)
Iogear is first out of the gate to ship Certified Wireless USB using ultrawideband: The new standard allows up 480 Mbps at short ranges using UWB. The certification means that Iogear's gear should work with other manufacturers' items. Practically speaking, however, this first device is a hub and dongle combo that doesn't need to work with anything else. You plug in a dongle into a PC and plug in USB peripherals into a four-port USB 2.0 hub up to 30 feet away, although at that distance speed drops to closer to 100 Mbps. It's priced as $200, which seems like a price in search of a buyer. It works only with Windows XP SP2.
Ultrawideband in one chip moves industry towards greater possibilities: WisAir announced the immediate availability of UWB on a single chip. This is likely the first of many such announcements, as UWB moves from an "almost here" technology to one that could be pervasively available. Its success in the market is still unknown--how much do you hate USB cables? Other UWB offerings use two chips, which adds cost, complexity, and power drain. Wi-Fi didn't start hitting gadgets until chipmakers had single-chip packages with a lot of networking bits also built into that single chip; and 802.11g didn't supplant 802.11b in gadgets until makers had efficient single chips for it, too.
The WisAir offering is legal in the U.S. and Japan. One of UWB's key hurdles is international regulation, with different regulatory domains allowing different frequency ranges to be used by UWB; UWB requires large swaths of spectrum to transmit ultra-brief, ultra-low-power signals. The low power also means low range, but with 480 Mbps within a few meters and step-down speeds beyond that to 100 feet or more, that's probably good enough. And that's just the first version of UWB that will ship. If regulators add frequencies or allow higher power, or the inevitable improvements in the spec occur, short-range speeds could top a gigabit per second.
The WisAir chips use WiMedia and USB Implementors Forum (USB-IF) Wireless USB standards. WisAir can't claim Certified Wireless USB status at the moment, but WisAir's director of business development and marketing Serdar Yurdakul said in an interview that "devices supporting our chips will be certified in the short term." A handful of devices now sport the certified label; none are yet shipping.
While other protocols will follow (including Bluetooth, TCP/IP, and FireWire/IEEE 1394), Wireless USB is an important first step because it's so straightforward for existing products with USB to use much of the same conceptual and programming infrastructure to supplement or replace wired USB with wireless.
Yurdakul said that WisAir's implementation offers automatic, dynamic channel selection among the several available to UWB. Because UWB is such a short-range technology, the odds of overwhelming the available frequency/channel combinations is pretty unlikely in each cell. The implementation also offers "automatic rate adaptation." Combined, products with a WisAir UWB chip should find the optimum speed and channel on an ongoing basis. The chip can adapt to interference or obstructions in the environment within hundreds of milliseconds, Yurdakul said, without losing connectivity.
"Any legacy device today you have on your desktop can be enabled with Wireless USB," Yurdakul said. "It just pops into your USB port, and existing drivers you have already, it uses as is. You don't have to add new drivers. The downside, is that performance suffers a little bit." That will change over time as PC makers add UWB as a built-in radio with native drivers.
WisAir expects that its chip will be used in both PCs and devices in this early stage, however. Specialization among UWB chipmakers will happen later with some choosing to focus just on the device market, as has been the case with other technology that winds up getting embedded in Intel reference designs and Apple computers. Several Wi-Fi chipmakers have found limited but deep markets with PC makers as an alternative to Intel's Wi-Fi products, but the greatest number of Wi-Fi chips (as with UWB chips) will be in gadgets in the near future.
Because UWB has such high performance over short distances, Yurdakul sees the technology used for simultaneous HD streams and Dolby 7.1 audio, as well as the more mundane cable replacement purpose in portable and fixed devices, like cameras and printers. UWB has built-in quality of service settings that allow a device to ask for specific latency and error correction on an "isochronous" channel--that's real time data in the case of streaming audio and video.
UWB also has a fairly high power advantage because even though network protocols will be adapted to it, it's designed as a paired technology with two devices talking to each other. Yurdakul said that WisAir's chips have a 30fold power advantage, bit for bit, compared to Bluetooth or 802.11g. It's the nature of UWB's low power and bursty transmissions that allow this savings.
WisAir is shipping samples now to manufacturers, with quantities available in fourth quarter. Pricing is expected to hit $15 when volumes are produced. That means that a $100 camera will likely not sport UWB in the near future, but it's a reasonable option for a $500 as PCs start to include UWB.
Belkin sets new date for shipping Certified Wireless USB hub with ultrawideband (UWB): This item is different than the "cable-free" USB hub that Belkin is currently selling, which requires Windows drivers and isn't certified by the USB Implementors Forum. Rather, this new $200, 4-port hub with matching dongle emulates wired USB in a way that works with any host computer. The 4-port hub appears to the computer as directly connected.
This is the first stage in UWB evolution: dongles and paired devices that only work together. The next stage involves putting a UWB radio with multiple protocol profiles into a computer and operating system, such as Lenovo is offering with a new laptop. This will allow FireWire, USB, Bluetooth, and TCP/IP over UWB with a single radio.
Belkin says the device will ship in August.
Lenovo will offer a laptop with ultrawideband built in: This should be the first computer to hit the market where UWB is an integral part. There aren't any peripherals out yet with UWB in them, of course, and the first devices will be Certified Wireless USB, most likely--cable extenders rather than, say, a camera with UWB instead of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Still, the industry keeps rumbling that UWB's day in the sun is Any Day Now. Still waiting!
Two updates from the ever-delayed land of ultrawideband (UWB): I remember when 2003 was going to be the year of UWB. Then 2004, 2005, 2006, definitely 2007. Well, maybe 2008. Alereon announced today that they have a UWB chipset that will work with allotted frequencies worldwide. This has been a big stumbling block that has been part of the delays of the last year-plus, along with delays in a certification program. (The news is in this Associated Press article.)
After the IEEE group that UWB figured large in disbanded in Jan. 2006, the various firms and associations involved in UWB hoped to get regulatory approval in much of the world in a matter of months. It's taken years, of course, and the array of frequency limitations is surely one advantage in the multi-band approach that the WiMedia Alliance's partial predecessor, the Multi-Band OFDM Alliance took. The multi-band approach allowed the ultrawide stretches of frequency to be subdivided into smaller bands, making it easier to pick and choose which bands to use. (UWB pioneer and now-out-of-the-UWB-business Freescale's "classical" approach used filters to notch out frequencies that couldn't be trod upon, such as the 5 GHz unlicensed range, and that was reportedly unwieldy as an international approach. Freescale disagreed with that characterization when they were still in the business.)
Interestingly, although Alereon announced a year ago that they had U.S.-based UWB chips, this Associated Press article quotes an Alereon spokesperson stating that products using their first chipsets will appear in Wireless USB in the next month or two. Alereon had expected perhaps a February ship date last fall. The new chips from Alereon will appear in products next year.
The Alereon spokesperson says that the top speed of 480 Mbps won't be achievable on early devices, which is news to me, too. I'm expecting some clarification, as that's not what I've heard. Perhaps he's referring to a range and speed issue.
Meanwhile, the AP noted that Belkin had a Wireless USB product on the market, and I nearly wrote the reporter to correct that information. But Belkin appears to have quietly released the Cable-Free USB Hub ($200) months ago. They managed to ship this without a press release. The last mention on their site is a Dec. 4, 2006, press release that has a note that the product won't ship until January.
Reviews date back to March on Amazon.com (which offers it for $220), with three of four reviews offering a single star: two reviewers say that the unit won't work with Mac OS X, and a third notes a lack of Vista support. One of the Mac reviewers got a blue screen of death with XP SP2.
While Wireless USB requires no special drivers for the devices plugged into the remote USB hub, the dongle that connects to a computer has to be recognized as some kind of USB device. Freescale had planned paired dongles initially that would mimic a USB cable, and thus obviate the necessity of host USB drivers.
Gefen's first foray into ultrawideband didn't pan out: Gefen (along with Belkin) preannounced UWB-based cable-free USB hubs using Freescale chips way way back in Jan. 2006. Gefen abandoned the attempt entirely, but comes back to market with UWB-based HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) extenders. HDMI couples audio and video in a single cable, and can wrap encryption (HDCP) on top of that if required by content owners. They're using Tzero chips to extend HDMI over UWB. It'll ship in June for $750 for a pair.
Belkin will ship a USB-over-802.11n hub in June for $130: This 802.11n-based USB extender requires host software for Windows. It has five ports. Mac software is due in August.
Belkin, by the way, has been promising its revised UWB Wireless USB four-port hub with host dongle setup since last year, when Popular Science gave it a best product award. The last update says the product would ship Jan. 12, which did not happen.
Alereon's CEO posts love letter to ultrawideband: The FCC approval for the use of UWB technology in the US was approved five years ago on this day of love. Alereon head Eric Broockman gives a few noogies to Freescale--which he says is out of the UWB business altogether, something rumored for months now--and then blows kisses to the crowd. UWB in the form of Wireless USB is imminent. Yes, I know it's been "imminent" for anywhere from two to four years. But there are actual working chips, actual working prototypes, and products lurching toward market.
Alereon and Stonestreet announce integrated ultrawideband (UWB) for Compact Flash, Secure Digital: The combination of software and hardware can be used with Windows Mobile and CE. This would allow makers of handheld devices and smartphones using the operating systems to add UWB without redesigning their products. UWB had a kind of coming-out party at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, with devices shown that had never before seen the light of day. Actual shipping UWB products are expected as soon as this month, at long last.
A/V equipment maker Gefen says they'll ship several ultrawideband cable replacements in 2007 (release not yet on site): The company will ship the Wireless USB Extender, a four-port USB hub that connects via UWB to a USB dongle on a computer, for $249 in January. Of course, last January, they said, "Cable-free USB 2.0 extension is a reality for...Gefen...The unit...marks the initial release of UWB-enabled product for the US market."
Ha, ha! Just kidding! We meant, January 2007! Last year's product, which they claimed to "showcase" at CES wasn't really shown. At Macworld Expo, a few days later, I asked Mr. Gefen himself for a demo, but they didn't even have a plastic brick as a prototype. Belkin had a plastic brick at their booth, but it had no innards. Both Belkin and Gefen had planned to be the early partners of Freescale, which now is apparently out of the UWB business, as far as the tea leaves suggest. (They still have this very slight page describing that part of their operations.)
UWB chipmaker Wisair, a member of the WiMedia Alliance, has developed the reference design from which Belkin and Gefen have derived their products. The device supports connections at up to 30 feet; Gefen promises 30 feet and a wall for coverage. It does require an AC power source, and all the associated USB devices plug into it. So it's hardly free of cables, but it's rid itself of a host-to-USB cable. With integrated UWB, every peripheral will have Certified Wireless USB built in, allowing each to be separately powered and located, rather than spoked off a hub.
Belkin has been stating for several weeks that their Cable-Free USB Hub would be available Any Time Now. Most recently, they posted a press release on Dec. 4 stating that mid-December was the target date. As of today, the product isn't even listed on their site--not to mention available for purchase. They had the temerity to write this in that press release: "As the first UWB product to hit the U.S. market..." A little premature, folks. (Their list price is $200; can Gefen sustain $250 on the basis of their brand?)
Is this vaporware? Not quite. They're just all a bit too eager to push the releases out before the product has shipped. At CES, I believe several dozen USB products will be demonstrated, although almost none will be shipping. Perhaps none demonstrated will be shipping. But within a quarter or so, there should be a number of items actually available for purchase, probably at too high a price point except for certain markets and some early adopters. Compare $200 or $250 for this early UWB-with-UWB hub with $3.19 for a 15-foot USB cable.
Gefen, by the way, has also said that they will have two somewhat more interesting UWB items later in 2007--wireless component audio and wireless HDMI extenders. HDMI sounds particularly useful, as it would be lovely to stop snaking cables behind television sets. It could also be extremely nice in situations where you'd like the TV set mounted separately from the rest of a home-entertainment system.
Update: Gizmodo has some more pricing details. The component audio extender apparently handles 1080i, which I don't get, given that 1080i is a video standard. It will cost $1,500 and reach 300 feet, line of sight, which is far beyond UWB standards. In fact, there is some concern that attempts to push the limits of UWB will run afoul of the principal of non-interference based on FCC rules. The wireless HDMI extender will use Tzero technology, spit 400 Mbps over 30 feet, and carry up to 1080i resolution for $500. There's also a VGA extender, Gizmodo reports.
Staccato's ultrawideband chip will find its way into SK Telecom handsets: The UWB product will support the host of WiMedia protocols and standards, some still under development, and allow a handset to communicate via TCP/IP (WiNet), Bluetooth (version 3.0!), and Certified Wireless USB. This should open tremendous possibilities for a cell phone's interaction with home electronics--hey, it's a remote control!--and PCs, allowing simple transfer, simple network access, and other features.
Today, handling USB, TCP/IP, and Bluetooth requires, at a minimum, a USB jack, a Wi-Fi radio, and a Bluetooth radio. UWB has to develop an entire ecosystem for handsets to have a true need for a UWB radio, and 2007 will tell the tale of whether that ecosystem is more of the Sonoran Desert (lush, but much hidden under the surface) or a riotous Amazon rain forest (gaudier, with more diversity).
The European Commission greenlights ultrawideband: There are a few more formal steps to be made, but it's basically a done deal. With the approval of UWB in Europe, this should allow manufacturers to step up their efforts, which are already well underway, to include additional bands. Some early UWB chips may only include the pieces necessary for operation in the U.S., and under identical regimens elsewhere. It's likely that UWB permission will be slightly different, involving different chunks of spectrum, in each regulatory domain. Thus some chipmakers started with the premise of having more flexible chips, even though it added cost and delays.
This factor is part of what drove dissent and division at IEEE 802.15.3a, a committee whose work was abandoned. XtremeSpectrum-cum-Motorola-cum-Freescale pursued classical UWB, their pioneering work, in which an entire swath of spectrum was treated as one identity and notch filters dropped signal strength in specific bands, which included the 5 GHz unlicensed band, which would have been susceptible. The Multi-Band OFDM Alliance, now merged as part of the WiMedia Alliance, had a variety of problems with that approach, including their concern that each regulator might approve different spectrum chunks. With multi-band OFDM, UWB can be divided into separate bands, avoiding notch filters, and OFDM--the same encoding used for 802.11a, g, and n--further helps improve throughput by segmenting spectrum within those bands.
The EC, according to the Radio Spectrum Policy document presented to the committee is recommending 3.4 to 5 GHz and 6.0 to 8.5 GHz for the initial deployment. This latter range could extend to 9.0 GHz if other recommendations are accepted. Development would proceed fastest on the 3.4 GHz chunk, with harmonization desired by the second half of 2007. The higher frequency 6.0 GHz chunk would be harmonized by the first half of 2008.
The US allows 3.1 GHz to 10.6 GHz to be used for UWB, with some power limitations and exceptions.
UWB faces another hurdle, by the way, which is aeronautical use. In talking with the RTCA, the private US committee that recommendations technical guidelines to the FAA, I found that UWB has raised many red flags for use in-flight due to its broad nature, and the lack of testing so far with how extremely low-power pulses overlaid on aeronautic frequencies will affect flight systems. (You can read their meeting reports here.)
The WiMedia Alliance has started certifying radios: The PHY (physical layer) of UWB packages moves forward with certification status. The certification means that multiple chipmakers have been able to provide interoperable silicon at the radio level. Most trade groups won't certify a standard or allow it to move forward until at least three companies have working silicon. In this cases, six firms passed: Alereon, Realtek, Staccato, Tzero, WiQuest, and Wisair.
The next move is the MAC (media access control layer), which is more or less the piece of the puzzle that works with higher-level network protocols (which in turn work with applications) and the PHY for transmitting and decoding information across UWB networks.
After the MAC, certain protocols will then be certified on top of the full radio, with Certified Wireless USB first out of the gate.
At the same time, Alereon announced that they will support higher frequency bands (above 6 GHz) for UWB to allow worldwide customization. This is a big issue, because most the regulatory authorities of most major regions in the world will each have slightly or vastly different requirements and available bands for UWB.
Popular Science gave the not-yet-shipping hub a "Best of What's New" award: The magazine picks products released between November of the previous year and Oct. 31 of this year, but Belkin's delivery of this device slipped. Belkin won a Best of What's New award alongside Airgo for its early MIMO router in Popular Science's 2004-2005 cycle. I've written for Popular Science in the past, so I know that the editors must have had a high degree of confidence that the device would ship by the end of last month.
Belkin's so-called Cable-Free USB Hub (MSRP $130) will use ultrawideband (UWB) to allow driver-free connections by pairing a UWB dongle that plugs into a USB port on a host computer with a four-port AC-powered hub that can be located elsewhere in a room. In the press release for this award, Belkin doesn't provide an expected shipping date.
Belkin was originally planning to release this in early 2006, and demonstrated prototypes (or at least brick-o-types: nonfunctioning plastic models) at CES and Macworld Expo. Their first design was based on Freescale's UWB chips, which have not yet appeared in a shipping product. Freescale was sold to an investment consortium recently, and I have expected to see their UWB line dropped in favor of a focus on the company's vast array of revenue-generating, already-shipping technology.
In summer, reports appeared (that Belkin later confirmed) that the company was shifting from Freescale to a vendor that's part of the Intel-led, 200-member-strong WiMedia Alliance. Belkin noted today in their press release that they would use technology from Wisair. Wisair has a USB hub reference design that will obviously be the basis for Belkin's product. Reference designs are generally fully developed products ready for customization. Because this hub is driver-free, there's really nothing beyond an injection-molded case and some logo silkscreening that needs to be added.
(I said that Belkin's hub was "so-called" because Cable-Free is Freescale's term for USB over UWB; the WiMedia Alliance has a partnership with the USB Implementers Forum, and Wireless USB is the trademarked and supported term that those two organizations will push for USB over UWB. Belkin might change the name for this reason.)
Several major electronics manufacturers back WirelessHD, which would be used for streaming high-definition video and other multimedia content: The specification would use the 60 GHz band, and they expect chips by 2008 that would support 25 gigabits per second (Gbps) of data transfer. Moving that much data is an expensive proposition today, with only high-end Ethernet switches and adapters handling that for wired communications. The roster of founding members includes LG, Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic parent Matsushita, NEC, and Samsung. These firms are also involved with ultrawideband (UWB) in the WiMedia Alliance, which the WirelessHD head said would be a complementary, not competing technology. Because apparently 480 Mbps over a few meters isn't enough to carry the kind of HD programming around a home (and at the distances) envisioned for WirelessHD.
We'll see. My take is that if UWB gains the expected traction in 2007 that is now anticipated, and it starts appearing widely in mid-to-high-end consumer electronics--especially HDTV sets--then WirelessHD has to deliver something pretty remarkable, or be positioned as an evolutionary technology. Meanwhile, the UWB standard from WiMedia will increase in speed during the same period, with some firms already showing 1 Gbps UWB using non-standard implementations.
Ultrawideband is approaching the market: This report on UWB from News.com conforms with my recent discussions with UWB chipmakers. There are chips at manufacturers who are working feverishly to release products. The first wave of products will be Certified Wireless USB focused, which means that you won't see a lot of video (which will overlay IEEE 1394 aka FireWire over UWB) nor IP networking. The Bluetooth SIG just announced a delay until late 2007 for their application integration with UWB, too.
However, wireless USB should be quite slick. The early devices I know about are mostly dongles and adapters. The dongles will allow driverless replacements for existing USB connections: plug one of a pair of dongles into a computer's USB port and another into a printer's USB port, and you're set. Associating UWB devices together will be a bit primitive at first. You'll be able to buy paired dongles and adapters, and there will be a mechanism to allow you to register dongles to associate together by running software on a PC and plugging in a dongle. This is a one-time operation, of course, and is simpler than Bluetooth pairing--but it's still a little kludgey.
Expect consumer electronics devices in early 2007. Kodak demonstrated a camera that would transmit data to a computer over UWB, but that's not a Christmas product. One firm is developing HDMI interfaces that will allow you to connect an HDTV and another HDMI source as if you were using a high-definition interface cable--a nifty alternative that should appeal to new HDTV buyers.