http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/04/technology/techspecial/04markoff.html?th&emc=th Bandwidth Advance Hints at Future Beyond Wi-Fi By JOHN MARKOFF Published: May 4, 2005 San Francisco ONE barrier that has held back the much-hyped convergence of the computer and consumer electronics industries has been the tangle of wires that is needed to connect the cascade of home video, audio, Internet and game gadgets. Now the drive to unwire the living room is about to get a push. In March, the Federal Communications Commission took a significant step toward breaking an industry deadlock over setting a single standard for a new wireless technology called ultrawideband, or UWB. While traditional radio technologies have transmitted and received analog signals only on specific frequencies, UWB uses inexpensive computing power to send short radio pulses across much of the radio spectrum. Because it does not use a single frequency, UWB offers several advantages, including the capacity to send high volumes of information quickly and the ability to share frequencies and resist interference. It's like breaking a truck's cargo into loads small enough to be carried on bicycles that can weave through a traffic jam. The technology's potential, as yet unproven, is that it will be able to increase the capacity of the radio spectrum drastically by allowing users to share with existing licensed users. Many computer and consumer electronics executives think that UWB will become the next big thing in the second half of this decade, a convenient alternative for all the cables that are now used to connect everything from high-definition television monitors to stereo speakers and anything in between. Moreover, some experts think that UWB also has a future as a wireless networking technology that will eventually replace the now ubiquitous Wi-Fi wireless standard. "I look at UWB as the third wave of wireless at the edge," said Bill Tai, a partner at the venture capital firm Charles River Ventures and an investor in Staccato Communications in San Diego, one of many start-up companies that are trying to capitalize on the potential radio spectrum bonanza created by the F.C.C.'s approval of the new technology. "The potential is that there will be no cables hanging from your shiny new flat-panel monitor that will be attached to the wall," Mr. Tai said. Staccato is one of more than 40 companies that have joined with the WiMedia Alliance, an industry consortium led by Intel that is pressing for a standard that will serve as a wireless alternative to the popular USB cable standard. Until recently, the WiMedia Alliance has been engaged in a standards war with the UWB Forum, an opposing consortium of more than 100 companies, led by Motorola, that has been pushing for an alternative technical approach to UWB. With the F.C.C. approval, both sides have declared a temporary truce, and it is now certain that the first products will begin to emerge later this year or early next year. That has led many in the industry, like Mr. Tai, to be increasingly optimistic that UWB technologies will move into consumer applications more rapidly than the two previous standards, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. "This should be a very freeing experience," Mr. Tai said. "This may cross the chasm between consumer electronics and home PC." And that is truly what the industry is dreaming of. With the widespread availability of UWB, it would be possible to buy a new high-definition television, plug it in and instantly receive a video stream from a DVD playing in a personal computer that was set up in the study, not the living room, without connecting any wires. In the future, it may be possible to transmit wirelessly two multiple HDTV signals simultaneously. A computer in the study, say, can send one program to a television in the living room while receiving and storing another program coming from a set-top box elsewhere in the house. Still, other technology designers have even broader ambitions for UWB. Rajeev Krishnamoorthy, the founder and chief executive of TZero Technologies, in Sunnyvale, Calif., helped lead the development of the first Wi-Fi 802.11b chipsets at Agere Systems as an engineer in the 1990's. Mr. Krishnamoorthy said he had set out on that project when he saw that the F.C.C. in 1996 had made available a band of unlicensed radio spectrum to be used freely. "I looked at their decision on UWB a couple of years ago and I thought, 'déjà vu,' " he said. While many of the UWB companies are aiming at the market for replacing cables wirelessly, TZero wants to build a technology with much higher speed and greater range. As a result, the company will have to meet vexing technical challenges to make a system that is more immune to interference, which could range from competing transmitters to hair dryers. Though the challenges are significant, so are the opportunities. Today's Wi-Fi systems are limited to about 100 megabits of data a second, a rate that will realistically support no more than a single high-definition television video stream in the home, whereas UWB's capacity is 500 megabits and faster. The future, as Mr. Krishnamoorthy envisions it, will include wireless home networks that will need to simultaneously interconnect multiple screens, computers and audio and video streams. "This is obvious, everyone can see the potential," he said. What is yet to be proven by the nascent UWB industry, researchers say, is whether the new technology will be able to share the radio spectrum with existing users. "My concern is still interference," said Laurence Milstein, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Center for Wireless Communications at the University of California, San Diego. "The original logic of UWB is that you spread over wide frequency and if you transmit at a low enough power then you won't interfere with other users," Mr. Milstein said. While it is possible that the industry will be able to reach that goal, it has yet to prove that it can be done without creating the radio equivalent of a traffic jam, he said. The answer will begin to emerge in the next year as the first UWB products reach the market. The future of the digital living room lies in the balance. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- You can UNSUBSCRIBE from the OpenDTV list in two ways: - Using the UNSUBSCRIBE command in your user configuration settings at FreeLists.org - By sending a message to: opendtv-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with the word unsubscribe in the subject line.