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Mobile

UWB: Hot Chips?

After a couple of years of hype and speculation, the high-speed, short-range specification known as ultra-wideband (UWB) may finally be ready to come in from the cold.

Consider the evidence:

For one, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has finally started to approve UWB chipsets and products in recent weeks, even though it initially approved the concept of the technology back in 2002. The regulatory body approved chipsets and related products from WiQuest Communications Inc. that can transfer data at speeds of up to 1 Gbit/s over several feet. (See WiQuest Intros UWB Chipset.)

The FCC rubberstamp should open the way for a first wave of "cable replacement"-type products, such as USB dongles and hubs, to arrive on the market.

Meanwhile, the venture community -- perhaps awakened by the more favorable regulatory winds -- has also started to put money into UWB again. This week, Artimi Ltd. closed $26.5 million in a second round of funding for its low-power UWB chips for consumer applications. Artimi is targeting next-generation Bluetooth and "Wireless USB" applications for its technology. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm has so far raised $45 million in total.

More established UWB player Alereon Inc. also got $4 million in cash from Samsung Corp. recently.

Ultra-wideband also forms the basis of two upcoming technologies that are generating in the telecom and wider IT industries -- Bluetooth 2 and Wireless USB.

Bluetooth 2, in particular, is something that the entire cellular industry will have to grapple with at some point, as The Linley Group analyst, Bob Wheeler, suggested to Unstrung recently. (See Holding Out for a Chipset.)

Other industry observers, including Unstrung's own Gabriel Brown, are less bullish about UWB technology than back in the halcyon days of 2002 and 2003, when the technology appeared to be nearly ready for prime-time.

Much, however, has changed since then. Mobile video, IPTV, and other forms of multimedia data all require faster links between devices.

Meanwhile, cash-rich companies such as Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) are looking to develop product and IP portfolios that span the wireless market.

All of which could help move UWB further along the hype curve toward reality.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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