We recently touched upon Intel and the Multiband OFDM Alliance (MBOA) departure from the deadlocked IEEE 802.15.3a to go ahead with their own ultrawideband (UWB) standard, Wireless USB (WUSB). It has been almost a whole year and neither Intel nor Motorola can garner the votes needed in the IEEE 802.15.3a committee, and neither side is willing to compromise. Intel favors its Wireless USB technology while Motorola is pushing Direct Sequence CDMA. As long as the IEEE remains deadlocked the probability of two or more UWB physical layer protocols (PHY) emerging increases, since both Intel and Motorola are committed to deploying products with or without the IEEE's blessing.

At a special ad-hoc meeting of the IEEE 802.15.3a in California last week, members tried to find a solution for the deadlocked standards process. A possible suggested solution was a Common Signaling Protocol developed by the West Coast startup Pulse-Link Inc. This compromise protocol by Pulse-Link will allow for the coexistence of the current and future UWB implementations.

The importance of a compromise protocol is that two UWB PHYs cannot coexist within the other's range of operation since each device will disrupt the other's signal. Basically this means that with two different PHYs, UWB cannot offer any guaranteed quality of service (QoS). The impact of this is that consumers will question the worth of these products if they themselves can not coexist with each other, let along with other wireless solutions. Now, the FCC is conducting tests to see if UWB causes interferences with other wireless solutions such as satellite TV.

A possible solution to this impasse could have been made at this past meeting if not for one little problem. No one from the MBOA group attended the meeting. The MBOA is currently resolved in their belief that it is better for the consumers that there should be only one standard, theirs. However, all this talk of coexistence and interoperability might be premature. The chances of two UWB devices obliterating each others signal given their short range are low

One interesting thing to note is that this compromise protocol was submitted to the IEEE months ago without much attention. It is only now that Intel and the MBOA left to continue their own UWB efforts that Motorola warmed up to the idea that this could be a method of resolving the deadlock. While no one at Motorola is going to admit it; it is possible that having to compete with an Intel lead MBOA is something they are not looking forward to. With homes and businesses being more PC oriented a UWB based on WUSB will have a clear advantage.

While this protocol may sound great for the IEEE and their members; this approach might cause confusion to consumers believing that all UWB enabled devices will work with each other. It will be like the early days of WLANs where different flavors of 802.11x hardware cards and APs didn't communicate with each other. Consumers already have enough problems setting up WLANs and Bluetooth enabled devices. And these products are supposed to communicate with each other effortlessly.

UWB is early enough in development that there is still time for Intel and Motorola to find a compromise to the deadlocked PHYs. While each claim that that they are doing this for the consumers benefit well all know that it is all about market share. The potential market for UWB products is enormous. Virtually all low powered peripherals that transmit data via wires over short distances are a perfect candidate for UWB.

Which implementation of UWB will be you be using? Based on information that is currently available, if you are a predominantly PC user with Intel manufactured motherboards then WUSB will be your only option. Its compatibility with existing USB infrastructure should make its interoperability with existing environments a snap. Motorola's implementation has lower power consumption and less complexity. Unlike Intel, it isn't looking at UWB strictly for the PC, but for all consumer electronics (Samsung, Sharp, and Apple don't want WUSB for UWB). It may be a year before we start seeing WUSB on the desktop, but with Intel's backing there is a good chance it may be here sooner than you think.

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  • vedin - Tuesday, March 9, 2004 - link

    Well, if the past is any indicator, Intel backing WUSB will cause it to get passed. I'm still pretty sure they hold more market sway than Motorola, though Moto ain't been sleeping, so for better or worse, Intel could likely shove it's standard down everyone's throat like it or not.
  • Xelloss - Tuesday, March 9, 2004 - link

    Yeah, what about TI? If I had to guess, I'd say they're in the Motorola camp, but I have no idea. They could be pushing they're own version for all I know.
  • Kaido - Monday, March 8, 2004 - link

    I just hope they come out with a wireless USB tablet :)
  • gofor55 - Sunday, March 7, 2004 - link

    Where does Texas Instruments UWB fit into all of this??
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