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Freescale Looks East for UWB

Freescale Semiconductor Inc. looks to have wrestled a lead over rival chipmakers in the race to commercialize ultrawideband radio technology, with the news yesterday that Taiwanese manufacturers Global Sun Technology Inc. and Universal Scientific Industrial Co. (USI) will use its chips in wireless "FireWire" and miniPCI modules.

Global Sun will use Freescale's XS110 ultrawideband (UWB) chipset in a miniPCI reference design to sell on to consumer electronics companies, starting in the first quarter of 2005. Initial applications include digital video recorders and set-top boxes, with mobile applications, such as portable hard drives and digital cameras, expected to follow later in the year (see Freescale Teams on UWB).

“It’s for video-based systems,” says Global Sun spokesperson Spencer Ho. “There’s a Linux driver if you need to integrate it with your system, [but] there’s no Windows driver.”

Universal Scientific Industrial, meanwhile, is developing a UWB-enabled IEEE 1394 module (a.k.a. FireWire) for integration into such devices as televisions and home media servers. “Production will begin in Q4 or Q1 [next year] -- two organizations are doing trials,” confirms spokesperson Charles Lin. “We’re in the test phase and don’t exactly know the price...”

Both announcements give credence to Freescale’s claims that it has a time-to-market advantage over chipmakers that are backing a rival OFDM-based technology supported by the 170 company-strong MultiBand OFDM Alliance (MBOA).

Members of the Alliance stress, however, that UWB is a long-term market that will benefit from a single, standardized PHY (radio) and MAC (media access controller). Earlier this month the group revealed the formation of the MBOA Special Interest Group to formalize its UWB specifications (see MBOA Announces UWB Specs).

UWB radio promises high-speed (over 100 Mbit/s) wireless data links over short distances (up to about 10 meters), at low price and power consumption. Insiders play down any potential conflict with the upcoming high-speed 802.11n wireless standard with the argument that UWB is designed for “whole room” coverage, while 802.11n is intended for “whole house” coverage.

Perhaps, though, the technology that UWB will more directly compete with is Bluetooth. The jury is still out on whether UWB will prove to be a Bluetooth killer or a different kind of short-range technology.

— Gabriel Brown, Chief Analyst, Unstrung Insider

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