Ultrawideband: $525M in 2007

The nascent market for ultrawideband chipsets will grow from just 100,000 units this year to 24 million units in 2007, according to forecasts in the latest Wireless Oracle report, "UWB: Commercializing Free Spectrum," which is available now.

The report's author, research analyst Gabriel Brown, believes this will create a market worth $525 million in 2007. "Clearly this is not a huge number," says Brown, "but until the technical and commercial uncertainties surrounding UWB are reduced, Wireless Oracle will stick by this cautious analysis".

While others have forecast higher numbers of units shipped in the coming years, Brown believes the current lack of industry standards could hamper market development (see Coalition Cranks Up UWB). As a result, he's "more cautious than just about everybody else in the near term" (two to three years). He's also "fairly cautious" over medium-term forecasts (four to seven years).

"This isn't because we don’t believe the technology has considerable merit, or that we are biased towards 802.11 or Bluetooth," writes Brown in the report. "On the contrary, UWB is a fascinating technology that needs to be assessed as objectively as possible."

UWB works differently than other wireless systems. Instead of using a dedicated carrier wave, a wide spread of spectrum is used to transmit millions of extremely short, low-powered, monocycle pulses through the air. These pulses last for only a picosecond. Although this technique is limiting in terms of the distances data can be sent, it can transmit enormous amounts.

"The first pre-commercial systems shipped by market leaders Time Domain Corp., Wisair Ltd., and XtremeSpectrum are already capable of 100 Mbit/s, and 400 Mbit/s is looking achievable during the next couple of years," writes Brown. "The logical application for this amount of bandwidth is streaming video, which, though possible, is not satisfactory over 802.11 links."

While the market is still very immature, a regulatory decision in February 2002 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow conditional use of UWB systems in the U.S. across a 7.5GHz band kickstarted the market.

Brown notes that "much of the early running is being made by small, specialist firms, while the bigger vendors are largely sitting on the sidelines and waiting for the right moment to pounce, lest the market slip from their grasp." An example of such a "bigger vendor" is Dutch giant Philips Electronics NV (see Philips Partners for UWB Chips).

Other heavyweights that have either invested in UWB development or at least shown a "serious interest," says Brown, include Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Sony Corp., and Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN).

Brown believes the early focus for the sector will be to supply high-speed, short-range wireless networking systems to consumer goods manufacturers. This would be "a smart move given that it’s a high-volume market that isn’t adequately served by existing commercial wireless systems.

"The requirements of high-quality streaming media are particularly suited to UWB, and therefore high-end digital TVs and DVD players will likely be the first consumer electronics subsector to take off. But for the volumes to get anywhere near what proponents of UWB envisage, it will need to be progressively rolled out to an ever-greater range of ever-cheaper devices."

But all this development will depend on the progress made by standards bodies. "The next 12 months or so at the 802.15.3a Task Group meetings will be the space to watch," says Brown.

— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung The market prospects for UWB are analyzed in-depth by the latest report from the Wireless Oracle, “UWB: Commercializing Free Spectrum,” which is available now for $400. An annual subscription to the Wireless Oracle is ordinarily $1,250, but is currently available at the special introductory price of $899. For more information, including subscription information and research examples, visit www.wireless-oracle.com. An annual subscription includes access to the catalogue that stretches back to February 2002. Topics analyzed in recent months include: "The 'X' Factor – Competitive Positioning in the CDMA Infrastructure Market"; "Survival of the Slimmest – Competitive Positioning in GSM and UMTS Markets"; "Wireless Routers – A Market Waiting to Happen?"; and "Wireless VPNs – Security and Convenience for Enterprise Data."

Editor’s note: Neither Light Reading nor Unstrung is affiliated with Oracle Corporation.
Nor with the Delphic Oracle. Nor Orville Redenbacher...

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