[opendtv] News: Bandwidth Advance Hints at Future Beyond Wi-Fi

  • From: Craig Birkmaier <craig@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: OpenDTV Mail List <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 4 May 2005 08:26:45 -0400


Bandwidth Advance Hints at Future Beyond Wi-Fi

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 

"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 

  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.

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