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Staccato CEO sets the record straight on UWB

Posted: 24 Feb 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:UWB technology  Wi-Fi Wireless PAN  Bluetooth market  60 GHz 

5. 60 GHz is not the savior
Sixty GHz is arguably the darling of the industry press these days. Some have even touted it as a "UWB killer".

To those who see it as the savior for wireless connectivity, I would urge caution and reflect on history. Complex wireless communication technologies always take longer than we expect to incubate, and even longer to mature (remember the "hype curve"). Although I must admit that the technology demonstrations are impressive in transmitting uncompressed high definition video content, they are just that, "demonstrations." If you have seen any of these demos live, you will notice that there are multiple antennas (one had 52!), the boxes are the size of a large dictionary, and they only work line-of-sight (there's a reason that several of the demos were roped off at CES). I haven't seen a price tag announced on any of the systems yet, but I'm expecting sticker shock on the order of Rs.49,719.19 ($1,000). By contrast, TZero was in production with Hitachi and had been showing very compelling production-ready solutions utilising H.264 video compression technology. I have seen 1080p/60 with sub-frame latency working through walls with my own eyes. Their solution seemed to be a bit too expensive still for mass adoption (and perhaps had a roadmap to address this before they ran out of funding), but to be able to meet the strict requirements of a Japanese OEM says something about the technology. So for me 60 GHz is not the savior. It is a viable and compelling technology, but still is a few years away. It's basically at the point where UWB was 3-4 years ago when the standardisation effort was still a bit ad hoc and in its infancy. To believe that 60 GHz is ready today and will deploy in any meaningful volume this year or even next is a real stretch of the imagination. To believe that it will find its way into mobile devices is a true leap of faith.

6. Wi-Fi Wireless PAN will not work
There, I said it. Using Wi-Fi as a Wireless PAN technology is fraught with issues. Let's run down the list. I would be more than happy to hear a response from someone out of the Wi-Fi camp:

- Wi-Fi already operates in the crowded and unlicensed 2.4 GHz ISM and 5 GHz UNII bands. Besides co-existence issues with other devices such as Bluetooth and Microwave ovens, now imagine 10 or more Wi-Fi ad hoc connections in the same vicinity in addition to the infrastructure connections. I'd like to see the test bed that is sure to uncover a plethora of compatibility and interference issues.

- Wi-Fi will not effectively handle an A/V stream while connected to the internet (which is the primary usage model of the technology). Solutions today cannot even support this usage model, but we have heard that they are forthcoming. Now throw a Bluetooth link in there as well which shares the 2.4-GHz spectrum.

- Wi-Fi will interfere with next generation IMT-2000 cellular services such as WiMax and LTE. Staccato has released several white papers showing real-world measurements of the interference potential.

- Wi-Fi Wireless PAN will interfere with infrastructure mode. There is also a whitepaper posted at the link provided that shows real-world measurements where infrastructure throughput falls to below 5Mbps when two devices are connected in a peer-to-peer mode in the same vicinity of the access point.

These are not issues associated with UWB. Now if we take a head-to-head technology comparison, UWB is five times faster than Wi-Fi, 10 times more power efficient and has superior user density. UWB was architected for Wireless PAN, Wi-Fi was not. So why even consider Wi-Fi for Wireless PAN? The Wi-Fi camp will point to technology maturity and that it is already in most designs so why not just reuse it? Well, if I have a refrigerator in my house, you don't see me trying to re-use it as an AC unit just because "it's already there."

In an article, a Bluetooth spokeswoman was quoted as saying that "the Bluetooth group is focused on releasing its protocol for Wi-Fi nets this summer, with UWB support on the back burner given the nascent state of the UWB market." This is not surprising, given that the majority of vendors in Bluetooth also have Wi-Fi and only a couple have UWB. Many customers however, have already stated privately that they do not believe it will work for the reasons listed above, and will not put any effort into developing products. We have also heard that during interoperability testing of Wi-Fi in a Wireless PAN setting, the Wi-Fi access points must be turned off due to interference. Does this sound like a mature technology to you? I doubt that any IT manager on the planet will shut down their network to allow an ad hoc Wi-Fi connection. I believe that when UWB is "viewed" as more mature by the Bluetooth SIG, it will be a no-brainer to adopt it. There's certainly more to come this year, stay tuned.

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