Wireless Steals the Show

It might be that we’re biased, but it seems as if wireless was the hot topic at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

And we didn’t have to schlep all the way over to Las Vegas to figure this out. Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) CEO Craig Barrett saved us the trouble by declaring in his pre-keynote press release that “unwiring the consumer is the next logical advance in consumer electronics that will inspire people's imaginations to explore new ways to work, live, and play.”

So what caught Unstrung’s eye? Actually it wasn’t only the scorching hot 802.11 sector, but the new, new thing: ultra wideband wireless.

Ultra wideband (UWB) is an emerging technology that works in a fundamentally different way from existing narrowband radios. Instead of using an RF carrier wave to encode to a bit stream, UWB sends and receives extremely short monocycle pulses to enable very high bandwidth (100 Mbit/s upwards) over short distances or low bandwidth over long distances. And, best of all, because it operates below the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) noise floor, it can make use of more than 7 GHz of free spectrum. Yes folks, that’s free spectrum.

Leading the way is XtremeSpectrum Inc., the first firm to produce chipset samples compliant with the strict emissions regulations imposed when the FCC legalized UWB in February 2002. Its live demo at CES showed wireless transmission of multiple streams of high-definition TV (HDTV) at wire-like quality to UWB-enabled digital TVs. “You simply couldn’t do this with 802.11 or Bluetooth,” says XtremeSpectrum CEO Martin Rofheart, adding that UWB will become more and more compelling as video streaming shifts from today's MPEG2 format to HDTV and MPEG2HD (High Definition) during the next few years.

The startup is backed by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN). And, although the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) is only just getting started on UWB standards work, XtremeSpectrum already claims an unnamed major consumer electronics firm as an OEM customer.

As coincidence would have it, Unstrung’s subscription service, Wireless Oracle, is about to publish a new report on the commercial prospects for UWB as it moves out of the murky world of secret military communications and into the consumer mainstream. Watch this space for more info.

A handful of other wireless video-related announcements also caught the eye:

Then there was a load of “Gee-whiz" type stuff:
  • D-Link Systems Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) both introduced 802.11g draft-compliant access points (AP); they branded their products as “Xtreme” and “Extreme” respectively.

  • Ubicom Inc. also showed-off an 802.11g solution, though perhaps more interesting were its standalone 802.11b repeater modules for the OEM AP market. The firm also showed what it claims is the industry's smallest AP, which measures just 1 inch by 2.25 inches.

  • Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) premiered a cable modem reference design with a built-in 80.11g AP.

  • And the WiFi Alliance announced its WiFi ZONE, a brand that service providers can use to signal where they have a public access hotspot.

There was also one really wacky wireless invention:
  • Hop-on.com Inc. previewed the world’s first disposable mobile phones. This sounds like consumerism gone mad, but the company claims they’re fully recyclable -- let’s hope so, for all our sakes.
  • Then there was Wire-Free electricity, which sounds just as wacky, but is actually quite a good idea.
    MobileWise Inc. and Splashpower Ltd. were both showing charging “mats” that you put your gadgets (laptop, PDA, phone, camera, etc.) on to recharge. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s worth taking a quick look at the pictures on their Websites.
  • And finally, FM radio made a comeback -- as the technology choice for distributing data to Microsoft Corp.’s (Nasdaq: MSFT) new SPOTS gadgets.

There was also the usual gaggle of new PDAs. Sharp Electronics Corp. launched its new Zarus, and Sony Corp. made a big fuss about the networking and imaging capabilities of its new Clie. Just before the show opened, Microsoft and friends launched a whole bunch of new Pocket PCs and SmartPhones (see Microsoft Makes CDMA Push).

— Gabriel Brown, Research Analyst, Unstrung

Editor's Note: Light Reading is not affiliated with Oracle Corporation.
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