After several years of getting a standard established,
products using the high-speed wireless technology are in the marketplace.
With three major manufacturers making laptops using Ultra-Wideband (UWB) and computer peripherals starting to appear, 2008 should see wider use of the cord-cutting technology. But it may be a couple of years before it becomes a mass-market feature.
After several fits and starts, UWB technology finally got products in the marketplace in 2007, all using the Wireless USB terminology. “That’s a victory because it’s been promised since 2004,” says analyst Brian O’Rourke of In-Stat. “Now the market has begun.”
The first laptops using UWB are coming out from Dell, Lenovo and Toshiba, the latter packaged with a UWB port replicator. There also are USB dongles and hubs from Belkin, D-Link and Iogear.
Wireless USB is seen as a replacement for wired USB connections, allowing consumers to eliminate the rat’s nest of cables coming out of computers. Initially the focus is on laptops, with the hubs connecting via wire to peripherals such as printers or external hard drives. But UWB is expected to be built into these peripherals later this year or in 2009.
BURSTS OF ENERGY
UWB has sometimes been called pulse radio because it uses bursts of radio energy to transmit data at high speeds (100 Mbps up to 1 Gbps) as well as at low power. The FCC approved UWB for commercial applications in 2002, allowing it to be used without a license within the 3.1 GHz to 10.6 GHz spectrum range. Besides data communications, the FCC order allows UWB to be used for radar, imaging and positioning systems.
|UWB-Enabled Device Shipments|
Attempts to standardize UWB through the IEEE 802.15.3a floundered two years ago with two opposing sides – the UWB Forum and WiMedia Alliance – going their separate ways. But the WiMedia Alliance was able to get its technology standardized through the European standardization organization Ecma International as well as the International Organization for Standardization (IOS).
O’Rourke says WiMedia’s UWB technology has come to market at a cheaper price than some preceding wireless technology like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, with UWB chipsets running about $15 or roughly $10 to $20 less than the other technologies. He says UWB also has been shown to be very efficient for providing high data rates at relatively low power. Both of those factors should give it good traction in the market, he says.
O’Rourke’s forecast is for 441 million UWB products to be sold by 2011, with about 22 million sold in 2008. He thinks the marketplace will start to take off in 2009 when there are more peripherals as well as consumer products, including cameras.
Wood: Next UWB phase
will bring lower prices.
Stephen Wood, president of the WiMedia Alliance and technology strategist for Intel, says the first phase of UWB products focuses on getting the technology into the market. That’s why the first products are dongles, hubs and laptops. The next phase will bring lower prices and broader market opportunities as a 2-chip UWB solution is replaced with 1-chip silicon.
In the next two years Wood thinks the price of UWB chips will drop from the current $15 to about $4 to $5, a price point that makes UWB attractive to a wide range of manufacturers, including handset OEMs.
As the market develops, Wood says, UWB will take two different paths in the kinds of products it will be in.
One will be for high throughput, with a next-generation solution powering data rates of 1 Gbps or even two to five times that. Those rates will support high definition video and large file transfer. The second path will be low power for use in mobile and battery-powered devices.
SYNC & GO
Also, Wood says it is an error to think of the WiMedia Alliance’s focus as UWB only. He says the alliance is promoting technology and products for the personal area network and is looking down the road when it might use a single frequency – 60 GHz –as well as UWB. The 60 GHz frequency can supplement and expand what UWB provides, especially for a “Sync & Go” application.
Besides promoting UWB as a technology, the WiMedia Alliance also certifies products. So far it has certified 22 devices for Wireless USB, a standard set by the USB Implementers Forum. There have been eight chips approved.
With its high throughput, UWB can provide streaming TV between set-top boxes and monitors or PCs. Toshiba started selling a UWB-enabled TV set in Japan last year, and Wood says a Chinese manufacturer has one. But Wood thinks UWB TV is experimental in the short term because UWB transmits only over distances of about 3 meters and is affected by metal shields.
Asked if UWB had reached a “tipping point,” Wood says the technology is beyond that point. “The number of players and investments made have put too much inertia into it for it to stop,” he says. “Each company has spent $30 million to $80 million to develop their solution. We’re committed. The next thing is to reach the magic price point.”