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UWB in LimboUWB in Limbo

IEEE meeting in Singapore fails to select an ultrawideband radio technology

September 17, 2003

2 Min Read
UWB in Limbo

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) 802.15.3a Task Group charged with defining an ultrawideband (UWB) standard has failed to reach a final decision on which radio technology to use, at meeting in Singapore yesterday, a move that will delay the development of the high speed, short-range wireless standard.

The 802.15.3a group is charged with developing a radio standard that can transmit data at speeds of 110 Mbit/s over 10 meters, which would be over a hundred times faster than today's comparable Bluetooth standard (about 1 Mbit/s over 2.4GHz). At the meeting, UWB technical folk were invited to vote on whether the group's favored proposal from the MultiBand OFDM Alliance (MBOA) should be confirmed as the technology on which to base a future standard.

OFDM (orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing) is a digital modulation technology that splits the signal into several narrow bands and attempts to minimize interference among the signals (see: UWB Heavyweights Get Together for more information on the MultiBand OFDM Alliance).

At the time of writing, the exact outcome of the vote is unclear, although European sources with company representatives in Singapore say that the MultiBand OFDM Alliance failed to achieve the 75 percent majority it needed to permanently exclude a competing proposal from XtremeSpectrum Inc. and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)

One source says the vote was split 59 percent in favor of Multiband OFDM (MB-OFDM) and 41 percent against (i.e., very similar to the previous vote in July), while another source says it was roughly 65 percent in favor of MB-OFDM and 35 percent against. Neither source personally attended the meeting.

Either way the result is a blow to MB-OFDM supporters, such as Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN), which had hoped to win the confirmation vote and speed along the ultrawideband standards process. The upshot is that the Xtreme/Motorola proposal will be back on the table, albeit with minority support, when the 802.15.3a votes again later this week.

“OFDM is ultimately going to win,” says a source who humbly requested, and was graciously granted, anonymity, “It’s just a question of time and what compromises we’ll have to make technically to get it through.

“The FCC wasn’t the reason why OFDM failed last night,” added the source (see: UWB Caught on the Hop and FCC Ducks UWB Decision). “This was never really a problem, and all the technical concerns were well-answered by the OFDM group.”

The source also noted that the major roadblock now is that the MB-OFDM proposal did not guarantee zero-royalty intellectual property licensing, even though it has committed to “reasonable and fair” licensing in its submission to the IEEE.

— Gabriel Brown, Research Analyst, Unstrung

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