November 12, 2003
The chances that a single ultrawideband radio specification will emerge from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) standards process anytime soon look close to zero today, after members of the venerable engineering body again voted themselves into deadlock.
At an IEEE meeting in Albuquerque yesterday the technical proposal from the MultiBand OFDM Alliance (MBOA) -- a group that includes Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) -- gained 96 out of 168 votes (57 percent) in a ballot of members of the IEEE Task Group 802.15.3a, thereby falling short of the 75 percent majority required to exclude an alternative proposal from a Motorola-backed consortium.
At earlier meetings support was split rougly 60/40 in favor of the MBOA porposal. For more info on this see UWB in Limbo.
The Task Group is charged with defining a universal standard for ultrawideband (UWB) radios capable of at least 110 Mbit/s over a distance of 10 meters using the 3.1 GHz to 10.6 GHz band for TVs, cell phones, PCs, and so forth. However the likelihood that the process will now bifurcate into two competing standards is increasing by the day, since both groups say they are fully committed to their chosen technical development paths and will press ahead independently of the IEEE.
“We’re not going to back off the product roadmap," says Omid Tehernia, vice president of the wireless and mobile systems group at Motorola Semiconductor. "We’re going to accelerate it.”
Referring to Motorola’s recent deal to pick up assets, intellectual property, and 50-odd employees from XtremeSpectrum Inc. (see: Moto Snaps Up UWB Play), Tahernia said the time is now right to “throw Motorola resources” at Xtreme’s technology. The roadmap promises to deliver commercial volumes of Xtreme’s chipset -- capable of 110 Mbit/s over short distances -- to consumer electronics customers in the first quarter of 2004, with a 500-Mbit/s 2-chip product expected by the middle of 2005.
Meanwhile, the MBOA remains adamant that a single standard is required, and appears to be exasperated and annoyed at Motorola’s conduct. For example, documents presented at a private MBOA meeting last night alledge that Motorola/XtremeSpectrum breached a non-disclosure agreement with Intel related to behind-the-scenes work on interference and performance comparisons.
The same presentation alledges that Motorola’s intention is to delay the standard and to force an industry split. Several MBOA members have also said that they think Motorola intends to try and take an early lead in the market to establish a de facto standard.
Undeterred by this, the MBOA has outlined its own roadmap that will see Release 0.9 of its spec published in February 2004 and Release 1.0 in May 2004. Several MBOA members (Staccato Communications Inc. and Wisair Ltd., among them) say they’ll be sampling well before the end of 2004, while general availability of MBOA products is anticipated in 2005.
In an email to Unstrung before the vote, Bob Heile, chair of the 802.15.3a Task Group, said that if the IEEE process fails to produce a result in a “reasonable period of time,” special interest groups might form to create their own specifications. But he warned strongly against this eventuality, saying: “My mission is to insure that the consensus process works, as it is the best method to create a consistent, viable solution and avoid market confusion.”
— Gabriel Brown, Research Analyst, Unstrung
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