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Ultrawideband Preps for CES

Ultrawideband is a little like Donny Osmond: lots of early potential that somehow hasn’t translated into the grownup world.

At least for UWB it’s not too late. In fact, it may only be at the end of the beginning for a technology roadmap proposing to embed high-speed, short-range, wireless connections into all your electronic gadgets (see UWB: From the Lab to Your Pad).

Ahead of the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show to be held in January in Las Vegas, the wires have been buzzing with news from UWB silicon developers. Here’s a roundup of the recent posturing, happenings, and assertions of indisputable technology leadership in the world of UWB:

  • Topping the data rate league table is Pulse-Link Inc., with its claim to have achieved a 667-Mbit/s UWB radio link. “Our actual over-the-air data rate is 1.3 Gbits per second, with the data throughput presently at 667 Mbits per second," says CTO and founder, John Santhoff, who soon expects to demonstrate an optimized version capable of a gigabit data rate. The breakthrough is due, in part, to a new forward error correction mechanism said to be more efficient at high data rates than the Viterbi forward error correction technology commonly used in other wireless communications (see Pulse-Link Demos 667 Mbit/s).

    Pulse-Link also claims a range advantage over other UWB vendors, citing recent demonstrations where it transmitted two simultaneous high-definition television signals for "picture-in-picture" TV through a combined seven-inch-thick concrete wall and an additional steel-frame drywall at ten meters. It says it can also transmit the same two streams at distances of 25 meters through one steel-frame drywall.

    Most other UWB chip vendors are talking about distances of ten meters or less. Critics, however, point to the nonstandard nature of Pulse-Link’s technology and emerging competition for "whole house" media distribution from 802.11n high-rate wireless LAN.

  • Staccato Communications Inc. says it has demonstrated the first all-CMOS UWB chip to the market. The single-chip solution comprises RF and baseband features compliant with the MultiBand OFDM Alliance (MBOA) standards. The MAC is currently implemented on a field programmable gate array (FPGA), although the company anticipates the MBOA will release the official MAC specifications soon.

    "We are now comfortable moving to production samples of the single-chip PHY for our customers as the next step and then quickly integrating the MAC and wireless USB functionality for a complete single-chip wireless USB chip in 2005," says Roberto Aiello, Staccato's president and CEO (see Staccato Demos UWB Chip).

    Staccato’s chip is said to be capable of the 480-Mbit/s data rate specified by the MBOA, a feat already demonstrated by Alereon Inc. and Wisair Ltd. These vendors, however, both currently have two-chip solutions and use SiGe technology for the RF transceiver (see Alereon Meets 480 UWB Spec and Wisair Unveils MBOA Chipset ).

    The importance of single-chip, all-CMOS implementations is they’re generally cheaper, smaller, and less power-hungry than alternatives. In other words, Staccato wants to be the Cambridge Silicon Radio plc (CSR) of the UWB market.

  • Artimi Ltd. has named Andrew Vought to its board of directors. Vought is CEO of BroadLight Inc., a maker of passive optical-networking semiconductors for the fiber-to-the-home market, and hails from Virata Inc., where Artimi’s founders also got their start. (See Artimi Expands Board and Artimi Targets Single-Chip UWB.)

  • One other little nugget: Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) is apparently planning to demonstrate a direct-sequence spread spectrum UWB chip, capable of 200 Mbit/s, at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference 2005. The news, reported by NE Asia Online, raised eyebrows because Sony is a public backer of the MBOA, which is a rival to the direct-sequence UWB proposal currently before the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE). Direct-sequence UWB is backed by Freescale Semiconductor Inc.

    A Sony insider played down the implications of the report, saying it referred to an academic paper intended to stimulate discussion about UWB and does not mean Sony has altered its stance towards the standards initiatives.

The MBOA and its members will exhibit at the “Innovations Plus” exhibition area in the CES Central Plaza.

— Gabriel Brown, Chief Analyst, Unstrung Insider

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